December 8, 2010

Nearly 100 small and medium-size U.S. businesses are helping fight the cholera epidemic in Haiti, using their company airplanes to deliver water filters and water purification units directly to suffering Haitians in rural areas. Using the aircraft, volunteers can bypass time-consuming ground distribution procedures.

Gene Schmidt, owner of Schmidt Consulting Group, Inc., in Pensacola, FL, said, “Our company works all over the southeast U.S., and our business airplane is invaluable. But as soon as I heard about [the disaster in Haiti], I knew I could use it to help.” His Beech Baron, like many businesses aircraft, does not require well-paved runways and can land in areas impossible for a larger aircraft.

Schmidt added that the ability of the volunteers to fly filters and water purification equipment to rural areas is particularly important, since bottled water is available only in Haitian cities. “And then only for those who can afford it,” he said, grimacing.

The response to the Haiti cholera outbreak is being coordinated by Bahamas Habitat, a U.S.-based nonprofit group that depends on donated aircraft and volunteer pilots to deliver emergency supplies to disaster sites in the Caribbean. They are working in partnership with the non-profit Servants In Faith and Technology (SIFAT) organization of Alabama to deliver the vital clean water.

“Businessmen and businesswomen with company airplanes make up most of our volunteers,” said John Armstrong, Chairman and President of Bahamas Habitat. “They volunteer because they can do some immediate good for people in serious need.”

Cholera can kill by dehydration in as few as 48 hours. Since the Haiti outbreak started in October, some 76,000 people have contracted the disease and nearly 2,000 have died. Clean water is the key to survival, but “clean water has always been a struggle in Haiti,” said Dr. Richard McGlaughlin, an Alabama physician who is volunteering during the epidemic.

As of this week, the volunteers have provided ongoing clean drinking water to about 58,000 Haitians, mostly in rural areas.

Business aviation has long served as a lifeline to people and communities in crisis, and NBAA supports industry crisis-response efforts through the Association’s Humanitarian Emergency Response Operator (HERO) Database. The HERO database is a list of people in the business aviation community who wish to make aircraft and other assets available as part of disaster-response mobilization efforts. In the aftermath of major crises, NBAA provides the basic information in the database is provided to relief organizations at their request.

If the NBAA receives requests for HERO database information regarding the Haiti cholera response, the Association would make that information available.