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WASHINGTON, DC: May 10, 2018. Airlink is a rapid-response humanitarian relief organisation that links more than 35 commercial and charter airlines with over 80 international non-profits.

During Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year, Airlink facilitated the transport of 150 relief workers and 122,000 pounds of cargo via two charter flights and six scheduled services to Puerto Rico (PR), the U.S. Virgin Islands, Sint Maarten, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica.

Spirit Airlines assisted Rise Against Hunger and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in transporting over 9,000 meals, 2,200 hygiene kits, 2,000 tarps for immediate shelter repair to Sint Maarten; United Airlines helped AmeriCares deliver nearly three tons of medicine and supplies to Saint Thomas to help the injured; and JetBlue Airways enabled Airlink support Waves for Water provide portable water filtration systems in Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases and life-threatening dehydration.

Anna Scarbriel, director of Grants and Programs at the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands explains: “We really feel like we have received an outpouring of support. It’s something that keeps us going because it does get really tiring, and you know we’re kind of stuck in this and living this, and to have people who have new energy - like Airlink and its partners - to come in and say, ‘We haven’t forgotten [you], and we want to be part of this, and we’re in it for the long haul."

Airlink humanitarian aid airliftWith transportation provided free or at reduced cost, non-profits were able to direct their limited resources to better help the hurricane-affected communities, according to John Lyon, president and CEO of World Hope International: “As well as being able to access the countries affected, the transportation savings allowed us to purchase more of the items urgently required by people affected by the hurricanes. Specially, because of Airlink and the support of the airlines, we bought a lot more generators and other relief supplies than we would have been able to if also paying for transportation.”

Jason Chernock, Acting COO of MedShare adds: “The cost savings have allowed us to do more than we normally could have. Moving goods for free or at reduced cost in the initial part of the response means we still have funds available to move lifesaving products into Puerto Rico, and continue to support patients and healthcare professionals on the island.”

However Airlink’s programmes are about more than just cost savings. To maximise impact and reach the greatest number of people in need, the organisation also seeks to address complex logistical challenges and ensure that the right items reach affected communities. This demands both effective prioritisation during the response, andpreparedness efforts in advance of the disaster says Liz Bloomfield, Airlink director of Humanitarian Programs.

Airlink recently completed an after-action review of its response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria and realised the need to increase preparedness levels and improve logistics contingency planning: “The operational plan in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma was based on a hub in San Juan, PR but had to be rapidly relocated to serve Dominica and the Lesser Antilles via Barbados as Hurricane Maria, now heading for the island, strengthened into a Category 5 storm,” she explains.

Moving from a reactive to predictive approach to aid logistics, Airlink has now developed six regional response plans for different parts of the world and identified areas where its needs additional partnerships, increased logistics capacity - and improved procedures.

One of these plans focuses specially on Latin America and the Caribbean where it recognizes the need to not only bring together airline and non-profit organisations but also engage with national and regional actors such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).

Executive director of CDEMA Ronald Jackson agrees: “We highly value the support provided by the private sector - including airlines given the existing challenges [of] disaster response in the aftermath of hurricanes. Building and maintaining strong relationships with a range of actors is an important part of CDEMA's strategy to foster better preparedness and to support regional resilience on the whole, so we can act collectively when a disaster occurs.”

Mike Oslansky, United Airlines’ director of U.S. Cargo Operations adds: “With last year’s hurricanes occurring back-to-back-to-back, we are fully committed to ramp up our efforts around preparedness.”

Bloomfield says there is much the air cargo industry, non-profits and other relevant actors can learn from
 recent humanitarian responses in order to implement a more proactive and collaborative approach to prepare
for emergencies: “Support from aviation partners, and a collective understanding of [the] unique challenges in these vulnerable areas, is crucial to an efficient and productive response effort." 

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