NATO Activates Air Mobility Initiative To Fight COVID-19

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Credit: NATO

A NATO initiative to speed up military reinforcement by air has been activated to support Europe’s battle against the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Rapid Air Mobility (RAM) initiative—declared operational in October 2019—is the result of a collaboration between NATO and air traffic management agency Eurocontrol to remove constraints to military airlift flights. 

RAM was originally developed as a means of getting equipment, supplies and personnel to the farthest reaches of the alliance such as the Baltic States in times of crisis when there is still commercial traffic crowding the skies or for peacetime exercises.

When activated, the scheme prioritizes flight routings and fast-tracks the diplomatic clearance process which can otherwise take several days to arrange if such clearances are required from several different nations.

To deal with NATO’s COVID-19 crisis, RAM was activated for the first time by the North Atlantic Council on April 3. 

Nations that request its use receive a special call sign with the trigraph “OAN” from Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). 

With an OAN call sign, diplomatic clearances are fast-tracked and the flight can be waved through the airspace of different countries by air navigation service providers.

“We decided there might be moments in this crisis which this proves useful to move around medical supplies, patients or medical teams,” Camille Grand, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defense Investment, told Aviation DAILY. 

NATO is also taking steps to request blanket diplomatic clearances so that OAN flights can get automatic diplomatic clearances. Part of this is driven by the need to reduce delays for flights, but it is also a recognition that the COVID-19 crisis has shut down government ministries that would normally supply such approvals. 

The initiative has currently been developed primarily for use by military aircraft, not for aircraft chartered by governments. But the alliance is “looking into whether it could be extended to other governmental or governmental-chartered aircraft,” Grand said.

NATO is stepping up its involvement in the battle against COVID-19 by coordinating and supporting national efforts against the pandemic with logistical, transport and medical help, the alliance announced following a NATO meeting of foreign ministers on April 2. Coordination is being run through NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC). So far, nine countries including alliance members and partner nations have made requests for assistance to NATO as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.