Bahamas Disaster Relief Flight
Photo: Airlink

Air carriers and logistics specialists make a vital contribution to the growing demand for humanitarian emergency response, the international aid organisation Airlink, has stated.

The call for humanitarian aid is getting louder considering all the global conflicts and climate change-induced weather events.

About 73% of the cost of an aid programme goes to supply chain management, including transport logistics, according to data from Airlink.

“The one blind spot is humanitarian logistics – even within the logistics and humanitarian sectors. Many small NGOs don’t have proper budgets or even logistical expertise,” Steve Smith, Airlink ‘s CEO told The Loadstar.

A typical dilemma is where an NGO gets a large donation of aid from the corporate sector (anything from pharmaceuticals to winter boots) but can’t transport it – effectively they have an unbudgeted transport cost.

“Often, this is when they turn to us, and we manage to cover that cost thanks to our in-kind donor airlines, freight forwarders, and corporate and private cash donors,” Mr Smith said.

One of the most significant changes to Airlink that emerged from the pandemic and the Ukraine war, is how it has shifted from a responder-focused non-profit to a cargo-focused one.

“Those two events fundamentally shifted Airlink’s model and our impact, so today, while we still move responders, Airlink’s ability to move our NGO partners’ cargo is arguably the most crucial.”

Last year, Airlink got aid into Haiti, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Tigray, and Iraq – with help from partners and donors like American Airlines Cargo, Astral Aviation, Qatar Airways Cargo, Turkish Airways, United Airlines Cargo, and critical freight forwarding partners and Seko Logistics, Priority Worldwide Services, and Skyways Group. Mr Smith reckons these partnerships are crucial in overcoming near-insurmountable logistical hurdles for its NGO partners. Airlink has more than 200 NGO and 50 airline partners.

Currently, Airlink is responding to the floods in Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul state. Reportedly, the Brazilian government has not issued a call for international assistance, limiting the ability of NGOs to respond. So Airlink has provided flights for humanitarian aid non-profit Cadena, and is working on aid shipments on behalf of six NGOs.

The immediate needs for those impacted by the Brazilian floods are medical supplies, clean water, sanitation and hygiene, shelter and other critical services essential to disaster response.

In response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Airlink flew four “hospitainers” from the manufacturer in the Netherlands to Egypt on behalf of the International Medical Corps. Essentially, these are hospitals in a shipping container and comprise specialised medical modules built around shipping containers and tents, which can be packed and transported by trucks.

Mr Smith said: “They are combined in multiple configurations and an innovative solution to providing hospital-grade medical care in disaster zones and to provide medical assistance to civilians in the region.”

However, accessibility to locations like Afghanistan can be problematic so aid is flown to the nearest port of entry, and trucked to the final destination. Corporate cash donors also enable Airlink to fill in gaps in partner connectivity, like providing charter flights. “No single conventional humanitarian NGO has or would have that kind of connectivity and reach across the logistics industry,” Mr Smith remarked.

In addition to airlines and logistics partners, Airlink also works with other types of organisations. For example, Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP provides pro-bono legal work, and American Express Global Business Travel is developing a system to help Airlink manage flights for responders. Organisations and companies like ACI Europe, BOC Aviation, ISTAT and the ISTAT Foundation, Alton Aviation, and SMBC Capital are critical cash donors.

Mr Smith reckons every business can play a part in this, whether through in-kind support or by making Airlink part of their corporate giving framework.

“The need for humanitarian aid across the globe is growing and every actor within the logistics, cargo, and aviation sectors can play a part, and Airlink’s mission is to make that involvement as easy and impactful as possible,” Mr Smith said.

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