When disaster strikes, delivering aid and relief materials at the earliest is primary. The air freight industry as part of numerous relief efforts, has proved its worth during testing times, by delivering humanitarian cargo to the survivors. During the Ebola crisis in Africa in 2014, tonnes of much-needed medical supplies were delivered by charter services in the affected areas.
At the Air Shippers’ Forum on Humanitarian Aid, during the Air Cargo Africa 2017, industry players delved upon the balancing act of carrying out rescue operation along with keeping its own business surviving. The panelists agreed on the fact that aid and peacekeeping organisations need experts, companies and organisations to deliver products during the times of crisis.
Acknowledging the importance of air charter services for carrying out various aid missions, Joscha Kremers, Officer in Charge, United Nations (Procurement Division) said in case of emergency or urgency, they transport goods by air on an ad hoc basis. He further added that the mode of transportation is decided depending on various factors like the time sensitiveness, the commodity and also the geographic scope. He pointed that the UN also gets charter services under long term agreement for special missions.
“Currently we have over 220 aircrafts that are working for US peace keeping projects around the entire globe, with a big portion here in Africa. For example in the democratic republic of Congo alone, we have 60 aircrafts (passenger and cargo) and we are working there on a long term basis. But if we have to transport cargo from one mission area to another, we try to use the aircrafts that we have chartered on a long term basis, which means a 2 to 3 year contract typically. In addition to it we do need air charters on an ad hoc basis,” said Kremers. “ Recently we had sent some shipments to Somalia carrying vaccines, and in the case of Ebola response mission, we also did a lot of air freight shipment. Even of bigger items like vehicles etc, which had to be brought in to the mission area on time. So air charter is a very important element of business.”
Michael Brown Program Manager, International Logistics & Forwarding, Airlink, pointed out that a charter aircraft is the only way to get aid in specified time period. “In many cases it’s an air charter that must get those goods in, and we saw that during the Ebola crisis, there were 19 flights Airlink worked out, with all its logistics partners and airline partners. And those were charter flights that overcame the logistics hurdles of working with other cargo carriers during Ebola.”
Meanwhile, Shahe Ouzounian, Chief Operating Officer, Chapman Freeborn Aircharter, drew attention towards the business side of the affair, as all corporate disciplines and services come for a price. “The humanitarian relief business is involved with other corporate disciplines and services. We spend a long time to diversify the business, we are looking for other purposes, it all goes into a pot. At the end of the day people need to earn salaries to have a core competence in a niche area. If we talk about airlift, maintaining the requirements is not something that’s easy to do like to take off the shelf when it comes up.”
To carry out various relief projects, humanitarian organisations make use of both charter as well as scheduled air freight. Marjo Leppänen, Logistics Delegate, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Nairobi, said, “It (air cargo and ad hoc chartered planes) is very important one because you don’t know where the next disaster strikes and so they are definitely required. But we are mainly aiming for the scheduled transportation and air cargo is part of that pallet as well. So we do combine both of them. Recently, we charter flighted water and sanitation equipment to Uganda where we had a big emergency operation ongoing. So we need both of them.”
Meanwhile, Christine Mendes, Senior Regional Logistics Officer, United Nations World Food Programme, Bureau for Southern Africa spoke about the cost related disadvantages of air freighting goods. Air freight is always on the high end of the price scale and therefore when things are planned beforehand, other modes of transportation are considered. “From the WFP perspective, I would like to add that it (air freight) is really on a need basis. We try to plan and when you can plan and schedule in the most cost effective way, then you go for more cost effective options. But when you don’t have a choice, then you do the charter and it’s really on a need’s basis,” she said.
During time of crisis, understanding the priorities of various relief agencies and providing the vital support at the right place and right time, depends highly on the infrastructure. Various humanitarian organizations have worked for the purpose to ensure flights reach close to the sight of action with rescue and medical teams, aid and equipment, carefully avoiding any airport or supply bottlenecks. Dan Morgan-Evans, Group Cargo Director, Air Charter Service appreciated the efforts of humanitarian organisations in constructing various hubs for the purpose. “In my very limited work for 14 years in the humanitarian aid of aircraft charters, I think the first occurrence I was involved in was the 2004 tsunami, which was pretty devastating but the number of countries which needed aid, was a shock to everyone. In the next 14 years after that, the improvements WFP, IFRC and UN have made are unbelievable. The idea is to be more accessible now, with new hubs. People know where exactly they have to go, where to get the aid from and how can they move things quite quickly. I can say that 14 years ago it didn’t seem to be the case.”
The forum, hosted by Liege Airport, concluded on a high note with all panelists agreeing on the fact that all stakeholders including humanitarian organisations and air cargo industry are moving forward together and a strict supplier code of conduct is being kept at place to ensure aid reaches survivors at right place in right time.
Photo: (L-R) Moderator Steven Verhasselt, Liege Airport; Joscha Kremers, United Nations (Procurement Division); Marjo Leppänen, IFRC; Dan Morgan-Evans, Air Charter Service; Shahe Ouzounian, Chapman Freeborn; Christine Mendes, United Nations World Food Programme; Michael Brown, Airlink