I have been waiting to write this post for some time now. I figured that sooner than later the airport in Tbilisi (TBS-Novo Alexeyevka) would shut tight and all those aid workers queuing up at airports around the world would suddenly find themselves sleeping in a terminal. Actually, they probably found themselves with a new Georgian visa stamp in their passport and email from HQ saying, “Sorry, TBS is closed. We’re looking to reroute you. Will let you know.”
There are a number of cities in the area that can serve as back-up but then you are talking about a long drive in a hired, or not, car. If you are lucky enough to get one of your branch offices to pick you up you are sometimes fortunate enough to get a Landcruiser hardtop with bench seats. Bench seats are fine on paved roads but I distinctly remember clutching the spare tire that was bolted to the floor for dear life during the two day trips to Uganda from our base in South Sudan. The potholes were so massive you literally drive a truck into them and when you came out the other end, well, what goes up must come down.
All of this is fairly routine and while somewhat of a nuisance it is all too familiar to many of us. The question is: What happens when there are no roads? The answer: you fly. No, not on the now unavailable commercial flights but rather with our very own personal humanitarian airlines. I bet those non-aid workers in the crowd didn’t know we have that option but in fact often times we do.
AirServ, based in Warrenton, VA, is what we like to think of as our own personal humanitarian airline. They routinely fly Beechcraft King Air, Cessna Caravans and a variety of other fixed and rotary winged aircraft into some of the most difficult landing zones in the the world. Their Ops officers was always the first person you wanted to get to know when arriving in country. If you needed to get somewhere the Ops officer, and the pilots, could make magic happen. They are a great band of folks that are one of the most important links in the humanitarian chain and who probably get the least recognition out of all the agencies.
Not to be outdone the UN also has it’s own airline service, UNHAS, that provides transport services for humanitarian aid workers. They are a collection of exceptional pilots and flight officers that move vaccines, people, food, equipment and just about anything else they can accommodate. I have to say the booking process with AirServ is slightly less beuracratic but without UNHAS a lot of people and gear wouldn’t get to where it needs to go.
You can fly with the military if they’ll take you and if your org will allow it. You can fly with local charters if you are brave enough or lucky enough to find a good one (like Susi Air). But at the end of the day if the option is there 99% of the time you’ll fly with AirServ or UNHAS. No word yet on whether they’re flying in the region but if I hear more I’ll be sure to let you know. By the way, if you are a pilot looking for an adventure they’re hiring.