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Leading Edge: Co-ordinated efforts for Haiti

There has been a swelling of national pride over Canada’s recent performance on the world stage; however, that pride should extend far beyond the podium.


April 14, 2010
By Andrea Kwasnik

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There has been a swelling of national pride over Canada’s recent performance on the world stage; however, that pride should extend far beyond the podium. Canada’s response to the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12 was immediate and has for the most part been applauded by experts in large-scale relief operations. In a testament to the strength and generosity of Canada’s aviation community, we continue to hear reports of support efforts being mounted across the country. 

At the time of the earthquake our Air Force was spooled up to support the Olympics, the G-8 Summit, ongoing domestic operations and operations in Afghanistan. Its focus quickly turned to one of the largest airlift and humanitarian aid operations the Canadian Forces has seen in recent history. Within hours, CC-177 Globemaster III and CC-130 Hercules from 8 Wing Trenton were readying to transport critical supplies and personnel to Haiti. Within days, the Forces had set up a strong footprint in Haiti for staging SAR operations, relief efforts and aid delivery, and aircraft were returning carrying hundreds of evacuees.

Canada’s major airline carriers were also swift with their relief response. Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat each quickly dispatched dedicated aircraft with critical relief supplies, mainly on behalf of humanitarian organizations. Working with relief partners, the airlines also donated flights for volunteer and relief workers, and supplied free return flights to orphans and adoptive parents. And to help in these relief efforts, various airline suppliers donated their services, and Nav Canada, the GTAA, the Ottawa International Airport Authority and Aéroports de Montréal all waived fees. Although the airlines have started to resume their regular scheduled flights to Haiti, things are far from normal and many have committed to long-term humanitarian projects.

In addition to these efforts, many smaller organizations are also coming up with ways to contribute. One example is the effort being coordinated by the Buttonville Flying Club (BFC), based at the Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport. Known as COPA Flight 44, BFC is the largest COPA Flight comprising 240 members who own and operate more than 70 planes. “Our members put their heads together to find a way to contribute, and we decided that our annual trip to Sun ’n Fun was a good starting point,” said Mark Brooks, president and flight captain of COPA Flight 44, who is spearheading the plan.

Each year, several BFC members fly their aircraft down to the Sun’n Fun fly-in in Lakeland, Fla. The annual migration involves extra side trips for pleasure, but this year the side trips will involve humanitarian flights to Haiti instead. Brooks’ affiliation with Neil Hetherington, CEO of Toronto’s Habitat for Humanity, proved to be an ideal fit. The BFC is currently raising money that will be used to buy tools and medical kits. The donations will be coordinated through Toronto’s Habitat for Humanity and will ultimately be delivered to the Habitat for Humanity in Haiti.

“Our plan is to ship the supplies via Air Canada to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and pre-position them there for our pickup,” said Brooks. “Once we get to the Dominican, we will fly the supplies from Punta Cana to Jacmel in southern Haiti where we will be met by representatives of Habitat for Humanity Haiti.”

Brooks, an IFR-rated pilot who has flown for the last 15 years, owns a Cirrus aircraft. “I only need about 2,000 feet of runway to land, so we intend to fly to pre-planned smaller GA airports, bypassing bottlenecks and restrictions at the bigger airports.” Brooks and the other pilots plan to spend several days making the shuttle flights back and forth, which take approximately an hour and a half, one-way. “Our ultimate goal is to transport 1,000 kilograms of needed supplies to Habitat for Humanity.”

Logistics are still being worked out with Haitian authorities and contacts, and the BFC is optimistic about the plans. The club has set up a donation box at the Buttonville airport and has an ongoing fund-raising campaign on its website, www.buttonvilleflyingclub.com .

In a recent MacLean’s article, the Hon. Peter Kent, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas), put it into perspective: “These little kids that we see, the survivors coming out of the rubble…they will be adults by the time we actually get to a point of meaningful recovery and reconstruction in Haiti.”

While Haiti’s needs certainly dwarf any effort made by a single operator, as a group, the Canadian aviation community can be proud of what it is doing to help rebuild Haiti.