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Mission: Egypt – A Business Aviation Front-Line Account

February 7, 2011

As civil unrest spread across Egypt last week, Philip Mathews’ phone started ringing more and more every day.

“A growing number of people… are looking to evacuate Egypt,” he said. Mathews is vice president of Air Partners, a worldwide charter broker. Some at first planned to wait and see, Matthews said. “But I think that wait-and-see attitude morphed into, ‘Okay, it’s time to go.’”

Mathews’ comments came in a phone interview from New York on February 3rd. He said he had just arrived in the U.S. from London for meetings with officials at the U.S. State Department.

At the time of his meeting with State Department representations, Air Partners had evacuated almost 3,000 people from airports in Cairo and Alexandria.

Operating since 1961, Air Partners has extensive experience when it comes to airlifting people and supplies into and out of danger zones. “We were involved in the Lebanon evacuation” in 2006, Mathews said. Air Partners was also a part of the business aviation community’s effort to rush relief workers and urgently needed supplies to Haiti after the earthquake more than a year ago.

Although the charter planes his company has brokered for trips to Egypt have met with substantial delays in Cairo (up to four hours on the ground as passengers were checked and rechecked, usually by a single gate agent), Mathews said the permitting process necessary to operate in Egyptian airspace was virtually normal.

Obtaining fuel, however, has been another issue entirely. Mathews told NBAA his aircraft and others often have to wait for hours at a time because fuel at Cairo’s airport was only available for half of each day.

At the airport, crowds of stranded foreigners rushed to meet almost every aircraft. In spite of that, Mathews said Air Partners has been able to evacuate everyone on each flight’s passenger manifest.

“Security in the airport itself is very good,” Mathews said. “That has not been a problem so far.”

However, given his company’s experience in other evacuations, most notably Lebanon, Mathews said he realizes just how quickly the security situation can change.

“We’re keeping a close eye on it,” Mathews said, and we’ll . “Obviously, as you’ve seen on television, the situation certainly seems to be deteriorating. So we’ll continue to monitor that.”