Operation Airlift Irma Underway

Operation Airlift Irma Underway

As new storm approaches, charity organizations form partnership to deliver critical aid to Caribbean communities devastated by Hurricane Irma

WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 18, 2017) —  As food and water shortages, lack of medical supplies, damaged infrastructure and a new hurricane plague Caribbean communities hard hit by Hurricane Irma, disaster relief charities Airlink, LIFT, Patient Airlift Services (PALS) and Rescue Global are teaming up to deliver large amounts of humanitarian aid to those in need.

The Operation Airlift Irma partnership will work with commercial air carriers, general aviation aircraft and dozens of aid organizations to deliver food, medical​ supplies, ​emergency shelter and equipment providing access to clean water, sanitation, electricity and telecommunications. The two-stage “air bridge” will first transport emergency supplies between mainland U.S. and staging areas in San Juan, Puerto Rico and St. Kitts. From there, smaller aircraft will carry the supplies to several islands.

While the operation’s needs-based model will use on-the-ground assessments to determine the final destinations of the cargo, Anguilla,​ Barbuda, Sint-Maarten, Turks and Caicos are among the islands being targeted for assistance.

The presence of Hurricane Maria is adding a greater sense of urgency for aid organizations responding to what is already a significant humanitarian crisis. Weather forecasters expect Hurricane Maria to develop into a Category 3 or 4 storm as it moves through the Caribbean and impacts islands already impaired by Hurricane Irma.

The operation is expected to run from two-to-six weeks. The first flight is planned to leave Miami for San Juan soon after Hurricane Maria moves beyond the region.

“Constricted supply chains and access challenges are creating a difficult environment for aid organizations trying to respond to impacted island communities,” said Steven J. Smith, executive director or Airlink. “Through our partnership and the unique capabilities of each of organization involved, people in hard-to-reach areas will receive help that may otherwise not be possible.”

Only the right aid delivered to the right communities

Airlink, LIFT and UK-based charity Rescue Global are​ working​ with​ ​other aid organizations, the private sector, government, military and academic partners ​to ​vet​ shipments​ of ​aid​ materials ​from ​the​ US,​ ensuring ​only ​those ​items ​needed ​are​ delivered​ to ​the ​dedicated​ coordination ​points. ​

Rescue Global is tasked with conducting needs assessments through satellite imaging, aerial and ground surveys, and coordination with disaster agencies. The Caribbean Disaster​ and ​Emergency​ Management ​Agency ​(CDEMA),  ​UN ​World​ Food Program ​(WFP)​ Logistics Cluster and USAID ​Office​ of​ Foreign​ Disaster ​Assistance ​(USAID / OFDA) are among the agencies with which the operation’s partners are coordinating.

Rescue Global is lending its reconnaissance and information-gathering experts, pilots, medics, and search and rescue technicians to the operation. With their King Air c90’s short field takeoff and landing capability, the group is ensuring smaller and more remote islands are reachable for assessment and aid distribution.

“I am frankly thrilled, challenged, and humbled by the consortium, and the effect that we collectively intend to make,” said David Jones, commander of the Rescue Global response to Hurricane Irma . “We will ensure that the right aid gets to the right people, in the most efficient and risk averse way.”

Both long haul and light aircraft to be used

Airlink, a US non-profit focused on mobilizing the aviation industry to transport relief workers and emergency supplies, will coordinate ​the long-haul​ flights ​from ​the ​US ​to ​San ​Juan ​and​ St. Kitts.  The supplies will then be distributed using a volunteer fleet of light aircraft arranged by PALS.

“It is our mission and honor to be able to utilize the generosity of our pilots and partners to the benefit of those who come to us for help,” said Eileen Minogue, executive director, PALS Sky Hope Program. “We are always looking for ways to be more efficient and ensure our services and donors’ support are being put to good use.  We believe the partnership with Rescue Global, Airlink and LIFT does just that. Together we serve people in need more powerfully.”

Additional resources sought

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates 265,000 people have been significantly affected in the region being targeted by the operation. At least 17,000 people are in need of shelter and thousands more are vulnerable to waterborne diseases, food shortages, and lack of medical care.

In anticipation of increasing need, the organizations are raising funds for flights and to conduct operations. Those interested in donating are encouraged to contact Airlink at (202) 480-9241 or visit https://give.classy.org/AirliftIrma.


Airlink is a global rapid-response disaster and humanitarian relief organization linking pre-qualified nonprofits with partner airlines for passenger and cargo transportation. Airlink’s rapid response business model supports the delivery of the right aid to the right people at the right time. Its network includes 35 aid organizations and 70 commercial and charter airlines. Since its inception in 2010, Airlink’s airline partners have flown over 4,000 relief workers and transported more than 3,000,000 pounds of aid cargo. For more information, please visit www.airlinkflight.org. Follow Airlink on Facebook and Twitter.


LIFT was founded as a not-for-profit logistics provider for fellow 501c3 foundations and other Non-Government Organizations responding to disasters. The organization prides itself on being able to deliver the impossible in trying times. LIFT is an organization that affords responders access to: general aviation aircraft, heavy jets, helicopters, small and large vessels and ground transportation to bring people and cargo to disaster sites. LIFT strives to deliver these assets to NGOs for free or at a reduced cost whenever possible.For more information, please visit http://gotlift.org.

Patient AirLift Services (PALS)
The PALS Sky Hope Disaster Relief Program is uniquely qualified to help provide air support during times of natural or national disasters by tapping into their network of volunteers from across the aviation community, such as the NBAA Hero Program, private pilots and the like, who donate their general aviation aircraft and personal time to provide lift into areas that larger aircraft might not be able to access.  With a combination of experience and a stable mission coordination infrastructure, PALS Sky Hope acts as a conduit to removing transportation as a barrier to receiving help.

Rescue Global

The Rescue Global mission is to save life. Empowering and enabling the world’s most vulnerable nations, contributing to truly global, multi-sector resilience, Rescue Global impacts the entire life cycle of critical events and related issues world-wide, from slavery to super-storms, seeking to work ourselves out of a job. For more information, please visit www.rescueglobal.org.

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