EDITORIAL: Airlines are critical to the Great Reconnect

Credit: Airlink

With airlines worldwide in survival mode and burning cash at $300,000 a minute, it’s easy to overlook the vital and good work they continue to do.

Medical and food supplies, health workers and scientists are getting to their destinations every day because of airlines.

Vaccines, including this season’s flu vaccine, must be distributed via time- and temperature-sensitive distribution systems, making air cargo a critical force in the supply chain. When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, its safe distribution throughout the world will be a massive and highly complex logistics exercise. Providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 Boeing 747 freighters.

UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore says airlines and international transport companies will be critical to what could be the world’s largest and fastest operation ever. IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac says it will “the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry.”

Even as airlines prepare for that mission, while dealing with the day-to-day financial and operational crisis wrought by the pandemic, they continue to be a force for good. A fine example of this is Airlink. Now in its 10th year, and supported by more than 40 airline partners worldwide, Airlink works with a network of over 130 disaster response and humanitarian relief organizations to help coordinate the delivery by air of vital supplies and medical volunteers in the critical first days after a natural or manmade disaster. 

Airlink this year has delivered over 7.5 million pieces of personal protective equipment and more than 300,00lb of relief supplies as well as medical volunteers to communities impacted by the coronavirus. It has also moved volunteer responders, humanitarian aid workers and relief supplies to Beirut after the ammonium nitrate explosion, to Australia during the bushfires, and to Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida in the aftermath of hurricanes.

Airlink now has a celebrity spokesperson in the form of actor Harrison Ford. You can see his video and the airlines that partner with this organization at www.airlinkflight.org

The industry as a whole needs more big name spokespersons like Ford to send the message out beyond the core community about why it is safe to fly, but also  reminding people why they fly: to do business, to connect, to celebrate, to comfort.

As the holidays draw near, many people will be rethinking their traditional gatherings this year. It will not be surprising to see airlines and airports, typically at peak capacity, be quieter. How sad that will be, not just for an industry that has endured through an unimaginable crisis, but for all those friends and families who are brought together every holiday season by airlines and airports. The Great Reconnection may still lie ahead but it will occur, and airlines will be at its heart.

Karen Walker

Karen Walker is Air Transport World Editor-in-Chief and Aviation Week Network Group Air Transport Editor-in-Chief. She joined ATW in 2011 and oversees the editorial content and direction of ATW, Routes and Aviation Week Group air transport content.