Airlink in Europe

  • War in Ukraine

Airlink’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022, within a few days of the beginning of the conflict and the mass movement of Ukrainians fleeing to neighboring countries. At its height, an estimated 8 million Ukrainians had left Ukraine for safety, mainly concentrated in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Moldova. A further 5 million were internally displaced. The resulting displacement and mass movement of so many people placed huge strains on the health systems and social infrastructure in Ukraine and the neighboring countries, whose governments struggled to maintain the welfare of their populations while meeting the needs of migrant communities. Airlink committed itself to supporting at least 40 NGOs over two years, sending 1,000 passengers and 1,000 tons of aid by the end of 2023 and supporting sustained relief operations that would help millions. We made this commitment at the 2022 New York meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. By the end of 2022, Airlink had fulfilled its promise on cargo and was well on its way to fulfilling the 1000 passengers. Airlink’s Ukraine response has become our largest single response in Airlink’s 12-year history.  

During the first year of the conflict, more than 750 attacks on healthcare infrastructure affected over 650 facilities, necessitating a significant humanitarian focus on healthcare services and medical consumables and durable medical supplies. Health Systems Strengthening is one of five major themes of Airlink’s work, as is supporting displaced populations. 

Of all the logistical operations Airlink undertook during 2022, meeting the health needs of the displaced Ukrainian populations and supporting the health infrastructure of neighboring countries became one of Airlink’s most important. One example was the innovative twice-weekly airbridges Airlink established to deliver medical support to clinics helping displaced Ukrainians in Moldova. Through a grant from The Buddist Tzu Chi Foundation and a consortium of NGOs and airlines managed and led by Airlink, the partnership launched a sustained multi-month-long logistics program to deliver medical supplies to clinics in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Moldova. The influx of displaced Ukrainians particularly hard hit this last country. Statistically, Moldova had the largest per capita population of Ukrainian refugees than any other European country. By placing funding for logistical operations center stage as part of a coordinated effort, with the aid of Airlink’s airline and freight forwarding partners, we directly supported the movement of critical medical aid on behalf of ADRA International, Project HOPE, and World Hope International. The program proved so successful it was extended, allowing additional Airlink NGO partners to participate in the airbridge. 

The challenges, logistical and otherwise, were considerable in supporting the movement of aid shipments to Europe, despite Europe being a populous and high-income region with developed, stable infrastructure. Logistically, the challenge was that the large no-fly zone for airlines meant most intra-European and transatlantic shipments had to be delivered to Munich to be transferred to trucks after that. This created further logistical problems for NGOs, needing to move aid hundreds of miles to Ukraine and surrounding countries. Compounding those challenges was a trucking shortage, especially Ukrainian truck drivers able to get in and out of Ukraine. Airlink solved these problems for our NGO partners thanks to a long-term partnership with and new partner SEKO Logistics which donated hundreds of thousands of dollars of free trucking to Airlink. SEKO also provided free trucking in the US so NGOs could get aid from depots to US airports for delivery to airline partners. The staff of SEKO donated countless hours to organize the dispatch of shipments with little notice and support Airlink and our partners; we are deeply grateful for their partnership. 

Because of the large Ukrainian diaspora and the world’s desire to support Ukraine, a significant issue that Airlink had to manage was the vetting of all the organizations seeking assistance to move their aid. Vetting is a critical part of the Airlink model, as is assessing partners’ programs to ensure that aid that matches identified local needs. Similarly, more responding partners meant more coordination, a lesser reported but critical role Airlink plays in ensuring efficient aid delivery. 

Asia and the Pacific has the highest incidence of natural disasters ranging from earthquakes and volcanic eruptions to seasonal cyclones. Making sure we’re all ready and resilient is important to effective response.

Halfway through the year, we’ve been responding to multiple record-breaking cyclones from Malawi to Vanuatu, Guam to New Zealand. Philippines is heading into peak cyclone season.

Ahead of the Philippines National Disaster Resilience Month, Airlink, Inc. decided to gather our NGO partners for essential training for #disasterpreparedness at the outstanding Ops Command Centre run by our local partner Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation at Clark Freeport Zone, located 43.2 NM northwest of the capital Manila in the city of Mabalacat in the province of Pampanga.

Event airline partner Cebu Pacific Air joined us to share insights in disaster response.

Jennifer Torner and I were privileged to organise this event, our first together, and meeting many of our partners face-to-face. There was incredible energy and engagement. It’s an honour to have such partners. #airlinked

Disaster Response. Step One. Get There.