HURRICANE HARVEY

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Million Air Houston: A Bustling Hub for Hurricane Relief Efforts

Sept. 7, 2017

When five days of torrential rains from Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, TX, Million Air Hobby Airport (HOU) became a virtual island. But the FBO also quickly became a center for relief efforts, as Coast Guard, Army and National Guard helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft started arriving at the FBO, bringing in supporting personnel to man local relief centers, as well as teams that rescued flood victims.

The Go Team at Million Air proved instrumental by supporting those providing rescue and relief services.

“We were able to take care of these crews in an Indianapolis 500 way,” said Roger Woolsey, CEO of Million Air Houston. “We got them fuel, warm food in their belly and they jumped back in the fight.” He said it was especially gratifying when the rescuers told him that they were reenergized because of Million Air’s support.

“Every one of the search-and-rescue crew were true heroes,” said Woolsey. “From the pilots, and mechanics to the swimmers, we were in awe of their dedication and strength. The helicopters would be fueled, as the crew would debrief their next mission, and eat a fast, on-the-run meal. The swimmers would even rush in and take quick showers after being soaked in the flood waters – all in record time so these dedicated rescuers could reenergize for more lifesaving missions. Often the crew would not even have time to eat a quick hot meal. As they’d run back out, we’d hand them Pop-Tarts and hot dogs.”

Sandy Nelson, Million Air’s chief brand and business development officer, said her company had preplanned to have enough food to ride out the hurricane, anticipating that the FBO might become shelter for its own crew and families. But the facility became isolated because of the storm, not allowing families to get to the FBO. Nevertheless, Million Air never closed, even when the airport’s runways were closed.

The Million Air facility has two generators and redundant IT rooms. Because of rainwater runoff issues associated with past hurricanes, the company installed Olympic-sized retaining pools under its ramp in 2012. This unique drainage system helped keep Harvey’s flood waters away from the ramp. In the first days following the deluge, Million Air was handling 10-15 rescue and relief flights a day.

“We also sent five jets out of the charter department to San Antonio to restock the Texas Medical Center to keep critical care units running including needed medicines,” said Woolsey. “Every aircraft we sent out or had permission to land during the closure was bringing in surgical masks, gloves and other medical supplies. Planes were loaded floor to ceiling. Helicopters picked up the emergency drugs, and when relief doctors and nurses started arriving and a passage to the medical center opened for ground transport, we were able to shuttle them to their prospective hospitals.”

As the Million Air facility returns to normal operations, it still is receiving supplies for relief efforts. Woolsey said that helping hospitals restock has become a crucial part of the work. And once the airport opened, general aviation aircraft owners brought in basic staples like bread, water, blankets, pillows, diapers and towels.

“We never had an aircraft empty – everyone had supplies,” he said. “The aviation community – like FBOs from other airports, flight planning groups, and aircraft maintenance facilities – are organizing, looking for every aircraft coming to Texas to transport donations they’ve collected to get to Texas.’”

Realizing that groups were collecting donations and having them flown to Houston, Million Air set up the logistics to deliver the supplies via a large delivery truck donated by Gallery Furniture to distribute to shelters, relief centers and churches. For more information call (713) 640-4000 or contact Sandy Nelson at snelson@millionair.com

Harvey Relief Efforts   –   www.nbaa.org/harvey