August 1, 2013

In January 2010, the world responded to the humanitarian disaster in Haiti, which was caused by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. More than 220,000 people perished in that quake, and in the cholera epidemic that followed. Two and a half years later the crisis still isn’t over, and the people of Haiti remain in need of food and basic medical supplies.

To meet this need, a group of business airplane owners and operators – along with their colleagues and other volunteers – launched a series of ongoing relief flights to the beleaguered island nation. With 14 Cirrus SR-22 airplanes and one Eclipse business jet, the 32 volunteers delivered some $100,000 of critically needed medical supplies to St. Luke’s Hospital in Haiti last month.

In 2010, U.S. business airplane owners and operators were among the first responders. In the first five days after the earthquake, nearly 100 business airplanes were delivering help before larger organizations – including the military – could plan, organize and get required permissions to participate.

The current relief flights started when Luke Lysen, owner of The Flight Academy in Seattle, WA, heard of the ongoing Haiti needs at a seminar given by Richard McGlaughlin for the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA). McGlaughlin, a Birmingham, AL gastroenterologist, helped build St. Luke’s Hospital and still volunteers there one week every month.

Lysen’s business printed a brochure advertising the relief flights and asking for participation and donations from COPA members.

“The response was amazing,” he said. “Donors and volunteers gave $105,000, and one guy arranged a big discount for buying medical supplies. The people in the community were incredibly generous with their time, money and aircraft.”

McGlaughlin said using business aircraft to deliver expensive medical equipment and supplies is much easier and less taxing than if they were shipped.

“With the donor standing right there explaining what it is and its critical importance, Haitian Customs officers are much more likely to understand than if it was just a big, unannounced package,” said McGlaughlin.

The medical relief flight group left at dawn on July 1 from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (FXE) in Florida. Ground-based weather detection equipment is non-existent over open water, so the Cirrus pilots updated weather regularly with a satellite phone linked to a U.S. meteorologist who monitored thunderstorm development all along the more than three-hour trip. Several of the aircraft owners limited their passenger loads to allow more weight in medical and other supplies.

“My company’s Cirrus is what keeps us profitable,” said volunteer Brad Pierce of Restaurant Equipment World in Florida. “This is an opportunity for me to give back.”

The next volunteer COPA trip to deliver critical supplies is scheduled for next March.

NBAA encourages members of the business aviation community to register in the NBAA Humanitarian Emergency Response Operator (HERO) Database. In the aftermath of major crises, basic information from the database is provided to organizations coordinating relief efforts.