While most airlines across the world have now stopped operating many of their scheduled services, some are helping to fight the COVID-19 pandemic by operating flights to collect medical supplies from China. Here’s six interesting examples.
Between March 28-29 Latvian flag carrier airBaltic performed a special cargo flight to Ürümqi Diwopu International Airport in northwest China. The mission successfully returned with 900,000 face masks and 80,000 respirators to help combat the disease.
Using one of its 22-strong fleet of Airbus A220-300s, YL-CSI (c/n 55034), departed the Latvian capital just after 08:00 local time before landing in the Chinese city 5hrs 46mins later that evening.
The return service – which departed the same day – took 6hrs 35mins to fly the 2,991 miles (4,815km), nonstop between the two airports before arriving back in Europe at midnight.
The service was conducted at the request of the national health service in Latvia and was completed in close cooperation with the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, AirLink Aviation Services and Wish Global.
Three pilots and two technicians were on board the jet which brought back 619 boxes, equating to just over 5.5 tons (5 tonnes) of face masks and respirators.
- Ethiopian Airlines
Ethiopian Airlines successfully delivered medical supplies to 39 countries within five days of receiving them in the capital of Addis Ababa. The equipment was donated by Jack Ma, the founder of ecommerce giant Alibaba. The shipment included testing kits, masks and protective suits.
Launched by Abiy Ahmed, the country’s prime minister and the Alibaba Foundation, the relief initiative is part of the actions taken by Ethiopia to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Tewolde GebreMariam, Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO, commented: “We would like to thank our prime minister Abiy Ahmed and Jack Ma for giving us the opportunity to serve the people of Africa in this globally challenging time. We are happy to announce that we have delivered the COVID-19 test kits, protective masks and other necessary medical supplies to 39 African countries in the last five days. In most of these airports, Ethiopian Cargo [aircraft] are the only ones delivering these life-saving emergency medical supplies.’’
Meanwhile, the Alibaba founder has today (April 6) said his second round of donations is on its way to Africa. On Twitter, Mr Ma said the shipment includes 500 ventilators, 200,000 suits and face shields, 2,000 thermometers, 1m swabs and extraction kits and 500,000 gloves.
- Hi Fly
Portuguese wet lease specialist, Hi Fly operated a flight from Shanghai to Lisbon to assist with the county’s efforts to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. The service was flown by Carlos Mirpuri, the carrier’s vice president.
Using a Hi Fly Malta Airbus A340-300, 9H-JAI (c/n 236), the nonstop flight – which was carrying much-needed medical equipment – lasted 13hrs 34mins and covered a distance of 7,000 miles (11,300km).
Carlos Mirpuri commented: “Having gone to Shanghai and back, as we were not allowed to rest there, I had the privilege to once again see how exceptional our crews are. They helped in every way they could to expedite the aircraft turnaround. I am immensely proud and deeply thankful.”
The mission to China was charted by the Mirpuri Foundation, a philanthropic organisation led by Hi Fly president, Paulo Mirpuri. The company forwent any profits from the venture while the Mirpuri Foundation donated €100,000 to allow the mission to go ahead.
- Wizz Air
Hungarian low-cost carrier, Wizz Air has delivered 12.1 tons (11 tonnes) of medical equipment, including protective gear and COVID-19 test kits, from Shanghai to Budapest following a request from the country’s government.
The airline used Airbus A321neo, HA-LVH (c/n 9164), on the 5,600-mile (9,000 km) link. Taking more than more than 50 hours to complete, refuelling stops were required in Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana), Kazakhstan and Irkutsk, Russia.
József Váradi, Wizz Air CEO commented: “It’s an honour and privilege that the government of Hungary chose Wizz Air to complete this crucial mission of delivering protective equipment and medical test kits from China in its vital effort to contain the coronavirus. In these tough times, we are doing everything we can to play our part in the fight against the outbreak. I would like to express my gratitude to all the government officials and my colleagues at Wizz Air who took part in this special mission, working tirelessly to gain the required permits and bringing home the equipment so efficiently.”
The airline is no stranger to long and unusual flights recently. Amid the COVID-19 chaos, the carrier has been operating several rare flights either to collect medical supplies, or repatriate Hungarian nationals. In March it used a pair of A321neos, HA-LVE (c/n 8941) and HA-LVC (c/n 8816), on a repatriation mission to Canada and the United States.
5. Aer Lingus
Dublin-based Aer Lingus has been operating a series of medical supply rotations to mainland China. This comes after the Ireland’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) spent €208m to attain supplies to deal with the ongoing pandemic.
Aer Lingus has planned to operate at least 60 return trips to the Far East using its 14-strong fleet of Airbus A330s. All crew participating in the flights have volunteered for the 30-hour round-trip. Tasked with bringing personal protection equipment (PPE) these include ventilators, testing kits and masks to fight the virus. It is expected by the summer that more than 24m gowns and 56m pairs of gloves will arrive on the airbridge from Beijing and beyond.
He Xiangdong, the Chinese Ambassador for Ireland, said in an interview with RTE Morning Ireland: “We are helping to co-ordinate between the HSE procurement department and China and we also help to arrange the landing slot for the chartered flight of Aer Lingus”.
An initial problem occurred on a March 30 flight when one of the flag carrier’s A330s bound for Beijing had to return to Dublin shortly after departure following a bird-strike. After a quick check by ground staff the jet was deemed safe and departed again the same evening.
As a result of the coronavirus crisis, this is the first time Aer Lingus has ever flown to Asia.
Although not an airline, the European aerospace giant has been lending a hand to help with the battle against coronavirus. Airbus has been contributing in the same way as most carriers as it offers up its aircraft to bring back medical supplies from China. Most recently, the manufacturer deployed one of its A350-1000 test aircraft, F-WMIL (c/n 059), to China to collect face masks.
The four-year-old widebody departed Toulouse/Blagnac on April 3 which arrived at Airbus’ Tianjin facility the following day. It then returned to Hamburg/Finkenwerder the same day with a shipment of four million face masks. This is the third of such missions between Europe and China.
Since mid-March, the previous two missions were performed by an A330-800neo and an A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). Airbus also deployed an A400M and its Beluga fleet to transport shipments of masks between its European facilities in France, Germany, the UK and Spain.
Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO said: “I would like to pay tribute to all the Airbus teams, globally, supporting the fight against COVID-19. They're living our values in assisting those who are saving lives every day.”
The company has said it plans to continue to support the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic wherever possible.