Haiti Crisis: Business Aviation Responds

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Chicago-Based Jet Support Services Goes Many Extra Miles on Haiti Relief

Just hours after the Haiti earthquake, Chicago-based Jet Support Services, Inc., (JSSI) offered some $25,000 for relief efforts.

"We saw the need," said Joe DaGrosa, vice chairman of JSSI's Board of Directors. "But at the start of this crisis, emergency supplies getting to Haiti were very limited." CEO Lou Seno added that only Port-au-Prince initially received any relief at all, because the large military and airline airplanes being used weren't able to land on smaller runways, the kind many business airplanes routinely use in the U.S.

"So we had this $25,000, but where would it do the most good?" asked Elizabeth Rogers, JSSI vice president of operations. "Then I stumbled on to Robin (Eissler) of CARE, on Facebook, of all places," she said. Corporate Aircraft Responding in Emergencies, or CARE, is the network of volunteers coordinating first-response relief flights using donated business airplanes.

During their first contact, Eissler told Rogers that the CARE network had a number of business airplanes ready to run relief flights, but not enough supplies to fill them.

"In fact," said Rogers, "Robin told me she had flights leaving Sunday morning (Jan. 17) from Fort Lauderdale that wouldn't be full. This was Friday, so of course I said, ‘how can I help you?'"

Then, the networking began to hit high gear on behalf of Haiti first-response relief.

JSSI's DaGrosa, who lives in Miami, called on friends and suppliers and went to a number of south Florida charities who were collecting supplies but had no way to get them to Haiti. "Almost every charitable organization in south Florida is involved in relief efforts, but back then they were still getting organized," said DaGrosa. "We delivered the solution."

To finish filling those first flights, DaGrosa and Jim Levy, special consultant to the JSSI board of directors, drove to Costco and started stocking up. This was no ordinary shopping trip; when clerks tallied the load, DaGrosa and Levy had bought some 5,000 pounds of supplies the first responders would need, everything from drinking water to rice and baby formula, and ace bandages.

"When the airplane came in, a Falcon 900, we loaded it ourselves," DaGrosa recalled. He, Levy and other volunteers filled every part of the cabin and baggage areas with about 2,000 pounds of those supplies.

"The crew really struggled to find nooks and crannies inside the plane," said DaGrosa. "They stuffed supplies everywhere, underneath the seats, and even around four passengers from Kentucky who were going as relief workers to an orphanage in Haiti."

"And then the next day, we went to Costco and bought another 4,000 pounds of supplies for a plane leaving that day. Then, finally, donations started pouring in from local agencies." In all, DaGrosa estimated, JSSI's initial on-the-ground effort in Fort Lauderdale totaled some 20,000 pounds of critical supplies for Haiti before the donation flow began.

But the company's efforts have continued. JSSI is offering a major in-kind contribution – to waive the regular hourly maintenance fee for their client's aircraft used in Haiti relief efforts. Response has been heartwarming, according to Rogers, who even flew to Florida to help relieve some of the first warehouse workers.

And what of JSSI's $25,000 donation that started this chain of relief activity? The last of it went to pay the fuel bill of a large aircraft chartered for Partners in Health, a charitable medical organization, to carry not only six doctors, but also large generators and anesthesia equipment desperately needed in Haiti.