Relief flights: Sometimes an empty plane is a good one


SEATTLE – When an airline customer takes delivery of a new airplane from Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Seattle, generally all or a portion of the airplane’s cargo space is available on the flight home.

This means, for example, a Boeing 747 Freighter flying with an empty cargo hold has approximately 20,000 cubic feet (566 cubic meters) of space going unused.

Fortunately, there is a program at Boeing that takes advantage of this available cargo space to help ship much-needed supplies to charitable organizations worldwide.

How it starts. The process begins when Boeing receives a request from a qualified relief agency looking for help transporting cargo to a specific country.

Boeing then checks the airplane delivery schedule and contacts an airline that will be flying an airplane to the area.

“After the airline agrees to help, the relief agency packs the supplies for shipment and brings them to the Boeing Delivery Center for transport to the airline’s home base, where the relief agency receives the cargo,” said Carol Cella, former manager of the program at Boeing.

“Basically, Boeing serves as the liaison between relief agencies, airline customers and people in need around the world.”

The beginning. The program began in 1992 when TACA Airlines carried antibiotics and other medicines to El Salvador.

Since then, Boeing has coordinated 128 relief flights to areas around the world, totaling 2 million pounds of medicine, food, clothing, educational materials and other items.

The supplies have reached more than 30 countries on five continents.

“Because of the high cost of transportation, a lot of this aid might not have made it to its final destination,” Cella said. “Our airline customers provide a valuable service to humanitarian agencies all over the globe.”

The largest relief flight Boeing organized was in May 1999, when a 747-200 transported 100,000 pounds of desperately needed supplies for Kosovar refugees in Albania.

Noteworthy. Other noteworthy relief flights include:

* 1998: Six Air China 747 flights carrying $5 million worth of pharmaceuticals to flood victims in China;

* 1999: Two Turkish Airlines 737 shipments of relief supplies for victims of the devastating earthquake in southeast Turkey;

* 1999: Four Aeroflot 767s filled with basic necessities and 10,000 pounds of dehydrated potatoes for orphanages in Russia;

* 2000: A Linhas Aereas de Mocambique (LAM) 767-200ER (extended range) delivery that carried 9.9 tons of supplies from Johannesburg to Maputo for flood victims.

Flights. Lifesaving medicine and medical supplies for clinics and field hospitals make up the majority of items shipped on Boeing delivery flights over the past decade.

Other items include food, hygiene items, clothing, toys and educational materials like computers, books and basic school supplies.


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