Oct. 2, 2017
Hundreds of business aircraft operators have stepped up to provide much-needed assistance and supplies in the aftermath of the recent series of devastating hurricanes. In some affected locations that were completely inaccessible by ground, the support that came by air was truly life-saving.
“I think we literally kept the residents of Summerland Key alive,” said Alan Staats, vice president of media relations for AERObridge, a non-profit organization that coordinates relief flights. Residents of that island in the Florida Keys, which were hit hard by Hurricane Irma, received essentials – such as food and water – from volunteer flights coordinated by AERObridge.
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, more than 80 tons of supplies were flown to the Florida Keys and other ravaged locations by a variety of business aircraft coordinated by AERObridge. Aircraft ranged from a Mooney 252 to Bombardier Global Express jets, said Staats, who noted that “At one point, there were 45 aircraft getting staged on the ground at Lakeland [Lakeland Linder Airport, LAL].”
According to Staats, the aviation relief effort in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is expected to last another two to three months, as most roads on those islands currently are impassable. Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, operators of larger business jets came forward, as did operators of Pilatus PC-12 and Cessna Caravans, not just to fly in supplies, but often to take back local residents, many of them children and pregnant women, to the U.S. mainland.
Initially, aircraft flying to the islands had to approach and land under visual flight rules, but limited air traffic control services are now up and running. Staats credited FBOs such as Signature Flight Support and Million Air for providing crucial airport information, particularly at San Juan’s Isla Grande Airport (TJIG), which has been more readily accessible by air and ground than Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (TSJU).
Ground transportation has been extremely challenging, said Staats, citing the case of a Puerto Rican doctor who had to get a police escort to pick up 3,000 vials of insulin that an AERObridge flight had brought in.