Private Aviation to the Rescue – Again
With the southern US being battered by two hurricanes within a short period of time, Dave Higdon reviews how the GA community has responded to the unprecedented events…
With two major events taking place in quick succession the GA community was able to assist, help and organize the mission-critical lifting of much needed supplies, officials, medical teams and hope.
The mix of aircraft and crews taking part provided a good snapshot of the cross-section of General Aviation. Commercial carriers also pitched in hardware and human assets in the Irma-relief effort, as they were already doing for Harvey.
Flight Aware and other traffic-tracking services showed the dramatic outflow of aircraft from Florida in the days ahead of Irma's first landfall in the Keys.
As the storm crossed the Florida Straits between Cuba and the Keys, Flight Aware’s website showed an eerie air-traffic image leading up to Saturday and Sunday: virtually no aircraft inbound to the Sunshine State and, by Saturday evening a total absence of aircraft flying over the peninsula.
It was as if the sky from south Alabama, Georgia and all of Florida was one big black hole for air traffic. Nothing showing in the skies, while just north of the line or demarcation thousands of aircraft swarmed just beyond Irma’s forecast influence.
Private Aviation Pitches
Many of the airports across Florida closed ahead of the storm, except for Southwest Florida International Airport. This field remained officially open during the entirety of the hurricane, and the staff of PrivateSky Aviation Services, the airport's sole FBO, weathered the hurricane in the company’s category five-rated concrete structure, as did many staff members and their families.
Meanwhile volunteer pilots, their airplanes and aircraft loaned by corporations were put to good use by working through programs from NBAA and AOPA, who put the assets where they were most needed. AOPA, the world’s largest pilot organization, also reached out to its membership as it did for Harvey.
It put out a call to the Frederick, Maryland, community where it’s headquartered, and then opened the doors of the National Aviation Community Centre for donations.
AOPA asked donors to provide items from a specific list of useful relief materials, and staff and local residents volunteered their time to receive and organize contributions.
Several of AOPA’s staff members are participants in the relief efforts using their own aircraft together with other pilots from across the spectrum who were pitching in through other organizations, ferrying everything from stables to diapers, water, medical supplies and personnel into areas otherwise cut off because of high water and downed trees and powerlines.
As one pilot explained, “We need only a little runway to make a big difference.”
And a corporate pilot sent a text confirming that he was on his second trip into Florida carrying medical supplies in his propjet twin.
The Work Continues...
Although most of Florida's airports have now reopened, the need for airlift services will continue for weeks, according to emergency services people across Florida.
With millions lacking electrical power, phone service – cell phones included – and forests of trees to be cleared before roadways are passable, the need for General Aviation's contributions to relief efforts will last for weeks to come.