Help for earthquake victims

The last time we put something other than a celebrity on the cover of a regular issue was just over a year ago, when we ran photos of Detroit's embattled auto CEOs testifying before Congress [February/March 2009 issue]. Below them was the headline: "What They Should Have Said." We were talking, of course, about the muttered apologies and incomplete explanations the executives offered to reporters when asked why they had flown to Washington on "luxurious" private jets to beg for taxpayer bailouts.

I like to refer to that issue as our "Black Cover"-and not just because the cover's background was indeed black. The whole dark episode dealt a serious blow to the image of business aviation, which already was a sitting duck for politicians and pundits looking to score some easy points with a public furious about what was happening with the economy. The negative ripple effects of that chapter in business aviation's history continue to this day.

The cover of the issue you hold in your hands accompanies quite a different story. It's not one we're happy to report, I have to say. The earthquakes that struck Haiti and Chile in January and February will go down as two of the worst humanitarian disasters the world has known. Millions of people, most of them poor, have been affected. And yet from these tragedies something hopeful has emerged.

Corporate Aviation Responding to Emergencies (CARE) is a group of volunteers from the business aviation community who came together after Hurricane Katrina to coordinate flights to disaster sites. When the magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, on January 12, CARE mobilized for action. The organization so far has arranged more than 700 flights into Haiti that have carried aid workers and supplies into the country and earthquake survivors back out.

Passengers on these flights have included doctors and nurses, newly adopted children, critically injured patients and missionaries. The operation involved scores of airplanes, all of them flown by volunteer pilots, some on behalf of corporate flight departments and others in their personal airplanes. With the assistance of the National Business Aviation Association, the FAA, the White House and the United Nations, CARE was able to start planning trips the morning after the quake, and within 48 hours the first CARE flight arrived in the island nation.

I got the call to go to Haiti at around 5 o'clock the Friday after the earthquake, January 15, just as I was sending some last-minute e-mails before heading home for the weekend. On the line were two media relations representatives from Honeywell. They asked whether I would be interested in participating in a mission to Port-au-Prince the following Monday on one of the company's Gulfstreams. I immediately said yes, but on the condition that I wouldn't take up space that could be used for somebody more important and that I'd be enlisted to help out in any way I could.

We left Morristown Airport in New Jersey at 6:53 a.m. on January 18 in Honeywell's Gulfstream G450, touching down in Haiti at 3:32 that afternoon after being diverted and waiting for a few hours in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Once on the ground in Port-au-Prince, we unloaded medical supplies from the cargo hold and bid farewell to the aid workers we were leaving behind. Less than half an hour later we were blasting off again into the smoke-filled skies above Haiti bound for home.

I was invited on the trip because the higher ups at Honeywell correctly realized it would be a good PR move to embed a journalist on the company's first-ever humanitarian aid flight. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to go along. But with that mission and the hundreds of others like it, something more important happened, and it has little to do with image, public perception or media sound bites.

The people who formed CARE-who had been making arrangements for four years so they could pull off something like this-finally got the chance to prove that the concept of sending private airplanes on aid missions to disaster locations works. For decades, corporations have recognized the value of business airplanes. Now, victims of future natural disasters will be the beneficiaries of the pioneering work done by CARE participants, who pledge to go wherever they are needed when called upon.

In this issue, starting on page 10, we chronicle several of the stories we witnessed firsthand or learned about from pilots and aid workers. We present them in the hope that more business jet travelers with the means and desire to help will contact CARE and join this worthy endeavor.

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