One for all

The recent crisis in Lebanon has demonstrated firsthand how the Middle East's air cargo operators could, in challenging circumstances, work with relief organisations to deliver aid.


The air cargo operations of major airlines have played a crucial role in delivering aid during the recent war in Lebanon. The United Nations estimates that approximately 500,000 to 800,000 people have been affected by the conflict and immediate assistance is required to ensure food, healthcare, water and sanitation are restored over the next three months.

The air cargo operations of airlines are called upon by international aid agencies following high-level talks with governments, civil aviation and airport authorities to help areas affected by disasters, whether manmade or natural.

Many of the region’s airlines have helped in Lebanon by dispatching a aircraft filled with medicines and clothes, collecting and exporting hospital supplies in Lebanon and flying nationals back home.

Qatar Airways arranged flights through Red Crescent, a regional arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross, to evacuate Sri Lankans out of Syria’s capital, Damascus, due to the closure of Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport.

Emirates SkyCargo sent out 100 tonnes of goods, commissioned by the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation, to be quickly delivered to Damascus, assisting in Lebanon’s relief effort.

The 47 tonnes of relief goods were delivered as bellyhold cargo on two Emirates flights in July and over 50 additional tonnes were delivered following arrival of the relief goods at Dubai Airport.

The goods, according to a statement from Emirates, have accounted for about one third of humanitarian aid sent from the UAE to Beirut via the Emirati Lebanese Friendship Association.

On arrival in Damascus, the shipments were received by the Syrian Red Crescent and trucked to the Lebanon border. The Emirati Lebanese Association further facilitated transport of goods within Lebanon, where they were distributed to a number of humanitarian associations.

HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al- Maktoum, Emirates Group chairman and chief executive, said in a statement at the time of the crisis: “Emirates is glad to be able to support the relief efforts. Our teams in Dubai and Damascus will pull out all the stops to ensure that the humanitarian cargo is processed speedily to reach the people who have needed it during this critical time. We are also grateful for the tremendous support and cooperation of Dubai Customs and the Dubai Police.”

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways’ cargo arm, Etihad Crystal Cargo, sent out two charters from Geneva, Switzerland, in July, heading to Larnaca, Cyprus, and Amman, Jordan, with 43 tonnes of relief goods, such as blankets and tarpaulin.

“Two more charters from Abu Dhabi to Larnaca were operated last month, transporting more than 60 tonnes of relief material,” says Etihad’s vice president for cargo, Ingo Roessler.

Qatar Airways also played an active part in helping deliver aid to the victims affected by the Asian tsunami; and helped to rebuild a small fishing village in Sri Lanka that was severely damaged by the disaster.

A spokesman for Qatar Airways explains that often, when a natural disaster occurs, it will get involved in charitable efforts. The Qatari government launched the ‘Reach Out To Asia’ charity to raise money for the people affected by the Asian tsunami in December 2004.

He says: “The Red Crescent was inundated with calls to get hold of supplies and we chartered aircraft to get supplies across to Indonesia and the earthquake that devastated Pakistan last year.

“It costs money, but it’s more of a government effort. It’s the governments that pay for the picking up and shipping of materials.”

The airline and Qatar Foundation, an organisation which helps the needy around the world, worked in tandem to raise money to help the victims of the earthquake. The efforts included a charity concert and a red carpet event in the form of a dinner with a charity auction, which raised more than US$10 million. The dinner attracted newsmakers and celebrities such as former US president Bill Clinton, UK entrepreneur Richard Branson and international rocker Bryan Adams, who headlined the charity concert.

Qatar worked with Red Crescent and the money raised helped to ship goods and supplies such as medication. The spokesman says: “We work with the governments, and recently, regarding Lebanon, we worked with the Emir of Qatar, because we are a national airline. We shipped lots of equipment such as blankets, tents, food and shelter.”

International aid organisations approach charter brokers who will get in contact with various airlines to find the best match of needs and capacity available to ensure the aid reaches the people in a devastated region quickly.

Logistics companies, such as DHL and TNT Express, are keen to get involved in the delivery of supplies.

DHL acknowledges how the logistics and distribution of all relief material is crucial. In December, the firm began a long-term, strategic partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in disaster management. It also developed an Airport Emergency Team, which is based in Dubai.

Kimmo Laine, air transport officer with TNT Express and the aviation project manager working for WFPUNHAS (UN World Food Programme and Humanitarian Air Services) in Lebanon, says Dubai Airport, as other airports, does its best to facilitate the aid operation, including accepting aid organisations involved in air operations into their premises, giving access to both landside and airside (security clearances, identification/access badges), providing facilities for operations, such as warehouses, offices, logistic centres with access to and cooperation with different instances governing the airport, including air traffic control, ground handling agencies, civil aviation authorities.

Laine says: “It’s about making sure the aid operation has all the means to run in accordance to local authorities and regulations, in a safe and efficient manner.

“Many other contingencies need to be addressed, such as fuel availability, airport parking space, suitability of runways and taxiways, communication capabilities, security and navigation aspects. International aid organisations call on specialist aviation expertise to cooperate with existing regional service providers and to suggest supplementary procedures for increased traffic in a difficult aviation environment.”

Adam Worth, sales and operations manager for Middle East freight company, DFS, says the biggest problem is the time issue. “Obviously, in the event of a natural disaster, everything becomes time-sensitive. Supplies are needed in the disaster zone “yesterday” and because of this, you have aircraft availability issues, as well as gaining the relevant traffic rights and landing permits from the affected country’s civil aviation authority. In an ideal world you would have a few days to organise the flights, but this is obviously not the case under such circumstances.”

Etihad Crystal Cargo boasts speedy action in the face of a disaster. Roessler says: “There is a close cooperation between all parties involved who want to react as fast as possible and help the people in the affected region.”

The Abu Dhabi-based airline was asked by a charter broker to help deliver emergency aid to Lebanon for the ICRC.

“The airline has to be available 24/7 to react fast, flexibly and efficiently in case of a disaster,” says Roessler. He also believes in efficient planning and the right equipment for transporting the relief goods.

In October 2005, the airline’s cargo division donated cargo space to the Pakistan Embassy to help send urgent relief to Pakistan in the aftermath of the earthquake. The relief goods were transported on scheduled services to Karachi and it operated a series of charity shipments to the suffering regions in Pakistan.

Usually, the broker liaises with the airports in the devastated region, or, if the local airport is destroyed, a neighbouring airport, to set up handling.

DFS’ Worth says: “Airlines, airports and aid agencies combine to make the whole process of relief flights as painless as possible. Obviously, there are rules and regulations that still have to be followed, but there is fl exibility between all parties in order to get the aid to its destination as quickly as possible. Issues such as royalties, non-objection fees and landing fees are generally waivered in order to reduce costs to the airline and, ultimately, the aid organisations.”

Airlines apply for landing permissions from the airport authorities and Roessler explains: “Permissions from authorities are, usually, no big obstacle, as all parties involved have the common target to help the people affected as fast as possible - permissions are normally granted within a very short time period.”

Destroyed infrastructure at the airport in Beirut was a challenge for delivering aid to the affected region. The parties had to look into alternative airports in neighbouring countries and organised further transportation by ship or road. The relief goods for Lebanon were transported to Larnaca, Cyprus, where many people were evacuated.

Another challenge to air cargo liners is to coordinate the aid goods to reach the people in the affected region.

Roessler says: “During the fighting in Lebanon, it was very difficult for the ICRC to arrange further transportation from Larnaca to the people in the war torn region.

“Etihad Crystal Cargo was asked to operate two further charters from Abu Dhabi to Larnaca last month. The charters, however, had to be delayed because the airport in Larnaca was full of relief goods. Finding space to store the goods was becoming a problem.”

The cargo team of the airline needs to be available 24/7 to be able to react fast, flexible and efficient in case of a disaster.

It is also a question of efficient planning and right equipment to be able to offer the right product for transporting the relief goods.

Crystal Cargo was contacted only hours after the bombing started and within the next few hours, the charter team in Abu Dhabi managed to match the needs with the equipment, ensuring that the A300-600F was ready and arranged the crew for the relief charters.

As Worth suggests, an airline needs to be on call 24 hours a day with the ability to offer a rapid response to such events, night or day.

“Furthermore the key factor, in my view, is to have a network of partners and affiliate offices across the globe that can assist you at the drop of a hat, wherever the disaster may be,” he says.

But, he adds: “If there is no direct link to the disaster zone, because of airspace closures or the airport is no longer suitable for aircraft to land or take off, then the next best solution would be to look at using helicopters or for the nearest airport to the disaster zone that has been unaffected and look to truck the goods in.

“If that fails, because the roads are no longer suitable or it is too dangerous to travel, the next solution would be to air drop supplies to the worst affected regions, again, by the use of helicopters and aircraft.”

Dubai World Central, working with Dubai Logistics City, is currently in the process of creating a regional hub for disaster relief programmes and specifically air cargo operations, according to Michael Proffitt, chief executive officer of Dubai Logistics City.

He says: “We are working with Dubai World Central International Airport at Jebel Ali, in conjunction with Dubai Logistics City. We will create dormant facilities on designated land, which in the event of a tragedy requiring emergency disaster relief aid, will become instantly active.

This is currently a working proposal that will become a reality – significantly heightening DWC’s profile and helping millions of people across the globe.”Please do not copy the content on this page

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