Experienced virus veterans
No stranger to responding to humanitarian crises, Aviation Sans Frontières is a veteran when it comes to supporting virus outbreaks – the NGO also supported the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a few years back. When the COVID-19 pandemic took over, they knew it was time to act.
By shifting their priorities back to Europe, Gérard Feldzer, president of Aviation Sans Frontières, and his team worked hard to set up a collaborative platform to arrange the transportation of medical teams and equipment to the local regions struck the hardest. The biggest demand came for anaesthesiologists and ICU nurses, to support the overwhelmed teams on ground zero.
To get this initiative properly off the ground, Aviation Sans Frontières decided to collaborate with the business aviation industry – in fact, Vadim Feldzer, Head of Global Communications at Dassault Aviation was one of the brains behind the whole operation. The organisation reached out to EBAA France (a national member of the European Business Aviation Association) to help coordinate and organise the missions.
“Aviation Sans Frontières contacted us, so we could spread the message across our members,” Charles Aguettant, Vice President and Treasurer of EBAA France, explains. “Participation included proposing flights or putting business aircraft at their disposal. Fixed-based operators also put forward their assistance, free of charge.”
Responding in full force
The answer that came from the business aviation industry was impressive. Operations started on Tuesday, April 7th. Dassault Aviation provided a Falcon 7X to bring a medical team from Marseille to Mulhouse, in the Alsace region – one of the most affected regions – the first COVID-19 humanitarian flight performed by the NGO.
Similarly, JetFly led another mission for Aviation Sans Frontières. CEO Cedric Lescop flew a PC12 bringing an epidemiologist from Grenoble to Ajaccio, Corsica, to support the local medical teams. Usually a very difficult connection to make through commercial travel, using business aviation helped save precious time for the epidemiologist, so they could focus longer on advising the medical teams on the ground.
Additionally, Daher Socata flew two missions with their TBM 900s. Making stops in Nice, Toulon and Avignon to pick up medical professionals, the end destination was also Mulhouse, in the East of France.
“These missions show exactly how versatile and flexible business aviation can be,” Vadim Feldzer explains. “And these are just the first flights. We’ve set up an online platform upon which general and business aviation operators can register their interest to participate in this initiative. The platform is based purely on the demands of hospitals and medical centres – it follows the situation.”
But support came from other companies as well. Aside from donating planes and pilots, a large number of private pilots also responded to the call. The oil and gas company Total offered free fuel to all the flights reacting to the COVID-19 crisis with Aviation Sans Frontières. The French authority DGAC has waived all airport taxes for this initiative.
“This is not a single initiative from one operator,” Vadim underlines. “It’s a common, shared initiative. Everyone is involved and working together.”
Business aviation at its best
But organising these missions have had their own challenges: “Business aviation has stopped all their normal operations to support the COVID-19 crisis,” Charles explains. “Currently, all our resources are being channelled into repatriation, medical, and cargo flights to support the crisis.”
“On top of that, these flights have transported people who have been in direct contact with the virus,” Charles continues. “We mustn’t forget all the work that goes into making sure the strictest hygiene and safety measures are followed.”
“People have been working day and night to get these missions off the ground,” says Vadim. “It’s been amazing to see the dedication of our people: the spontaneity of offering help, the generosity of our community. I’ve been so impressed by the professionalism and solidarity our industry has demonstrated.”
“It would be great to perform missions throughout Europe, and not just France,” Vadim concludes.
Access the platform here.