Crisis response

Providing help for the helpers

Airbus Foundation Humanitarian Flight SDG Icon

How Airbus supports international humanitarian organisations as they work against the clock to manage disasters such as Hurricane Irma, the earthquakes in Mexico or the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Over the last 20 years, 90% of disasters around the world have been caused by weather extremes, such as floods, storms, heatwaves or droughts. These disasters have caused more than 600,000 deaths, according to United Nations figures. And climate change is altering the frequency, intensity and geographical distribution of some of these extreme events, with more changes expected in the future.

Airbus supports international humanitarian organisations as they work against the clock to manage catastrophes such as weather-related disasters, earthquakes and tsunamis. 

Humanitarian flights for disaster relief

Since 2008, Airbus has organised 64 flights to transport 800 tonnes of humanitarian aid, putting its fleet of aircraft at the disposal of its partners, such as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (IFRC).

An example of this collaboration was the emergency flight organised to provide relief on the islands of Barbuda, Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy, which had no electricity or drinking water in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

On 13 September 2018, one of Airbus’ test aircraft – an A350 XWB  – took off from Toulouse and flew to Paris Charles de Gaulle, where 84 medical personnel and 30 tonnes of humanitarian aid were waiting. At 18:30 local time it landed at Pointe-à-Pitre Airport in the Guadeloupe archipelago. “Having a free aircraft at our disposal saved us hundreds of thousands of euros, leaving us with more resources to start up projects on the ground,” explains Aude Saintoyant of the French Red Cross.

In parallel of coordinating with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and other NGOs for the delivery of relief goods, the Airbus Foundation verifies availability of aircraft with Airbus’ flight test team. This group, which includes pilots, engineers and ground support, is the heart and soul of Airbus’ humanitarian response.

“Once an aircraft is secured, we optimise its testing configuration for the loading, prepare a flight plan and request authorisation to fly to the destination,” explains Jean Philippe Cottet, head of development flight tests at Airbus, who flew the A350 XWB to Guadeloupe.

Every time we organise one of these humanitarian flights, hundreds of people come forward to offer help, be it for logistics or loading. It is a great satisfaction to witness this spirit and feel that we can be useful.

Jean Philippe Cottet

Loading Of Airbus Foundation Humanitarian Flight To Dubai 038

Disaster management: hand in hand with NGOs

Additional humanitarian aid is transported in new aircraft during their delivery flight to customer airlines. This has been the case for 48 missions, the result of agreements with 23 airlines.

These flights show how different partners can make a difference to save lives in emergency assistance. On 3 October 2017, Emirates Airline, the Airbus Foundation and the German NGO Welthungerhilfe joined forces to bring 1,020 tarpaulins and ropes for emergency shelter from Hamburg to the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot in Dubai, UAE.

Another recent case saw the Airbus Foundation transport humanitarian aid on the delivery flight of Interjet’s new A321 to Mexico after the country was hit by devastating earthquakes in September.

Six tons of humanitarian aid including tents, self-inflating mattresses and water-resistant tarps arrived at the Toluca International Airport from Hamburg. Humedica has cooperated with the Foundation on four flights this year to Ethiopia, Colombia and Mexico. “Without Airbus it would be very difficult for us to transport so much cargo. Thanks to them, we can focus on getting the actual resources,” says Humedica's Desk Officer Christine Straub.

800 tons of aid materials have been transported by Airbus aircraft to date

Helicopters flying rescue missions

Helicopters are also a key platform for disaster response work following earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters. After a series of earthquakes struck Mexico on September 2017, the Airbus Foundation partnered with Mexican air ambulance service Angel Flight to provide emergency helicopter transport with an AS355 and an H130. These two light helicopters were made available to hospitals for the transfer of the critically injured during the earthquakes.

Angel Flight

In August 2017, Harvey was the first major hurricane to make landfall in the US since 2005. Lieutenant Junior Grade Bradley Harbert, from the US Coast Guard, flew an MH-65 helicopter during relief missions. “That first day, we primarily conducted rooftop rescues. Our crew hoisted nine people off of rooftops in the Houston area. Overall, the MH-65s performed great. In the wind, the helicopters were safe and stable while we were hovering and hoisting.”

USCG Hurricane Harvey Rescue Operations

Humanitarian actions 20 December 2017

Harvey USCG 3

Humanitarian actions 30 August 2017

Harvey USCG 2

Following hurricane Irma in September 2017, Puma and NH90 Caïman helicopters belonging to the French Air Force were also quickly mobilised to help the population in the French Caribbean. For the Caïman aircraft, which is capable of all-weather day-and-night operations, the mission was a double first: the first assistance mission on national territory and also the first projection by sea.

NH90 Crisis Response Caribbean 2

Hurricane Maria also hit the Caribbean in September 2017, just a few days after Irma. The island of Dominica was completely depending on the support of the Dutch Military Forces. With the roads destroyed, the NH90 transported 37,100 liters of fresh water and 8,200 kg of food and executed more than 48 medical evacuations, including Tom, a two-days-old baby, with his mother.

NH90 Crisis Response Caribbean 1

Satellites images for disaster management

Airbus also provides humanitarian organisations with helpful images of disaster sites from its Earth observation satellites via a dedicated portal. “We try to make ourselves as useful as possible for relief agencies,” says Franck Ranera, head of the service. “A good example is the Rohingya refugee crisis. Between June and October 2017, there was a mass population movement from Myanmar to Bangladesh, estimated at more than 500,000 people – and all of them ended up in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp.”

Humanitarian partners were able to access to satellite images to assess the situation. “This enabled it to see where the Rohingya were concentrated and where it needed to locate food distribution centres,” explains Ranera. The service was provided around the clock. “Our service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Pierre Jammy, who is responsible for customer service. That way, he says, the company’s technology is always there when relief agencies need it.

Humanitarian actions 20 December 2017


Before and after: Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, inhabited mostly by Rohingya Muslims that have fled from religious persecution in neighboring Myanmar. Copyright is: Pléiades © CNES 2017, Distribution Airbus DS

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Blending aerial imagery and data analytics for the aftermath of disasters

Following a natural catastrophe, insurance providers must claim quickly for victims who are often exhausted, injured and homeless. Airbus Aerial’s cloud based platform allows insurers to easily access analytics that help settle claims before policy holders are sometimes even able to see their homes. Aerial gathers imagery via satellite manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft then is able to provide actionable data within as little as 48 hours.

Our focus is on helping victims restore some sense of normalcy to their lives as quickly as possible

Jesse Kallman, president of Airbus Aerial

Thus far in the US alone, Aerial has assisted with Hurricane Harvey and Irma in September 2017 along with California’s wildfires in October 2017 and December 2017.  The platform compares imagery of the affected area(s) before and after the event, and allows claims agents to pinpoint each policy location and make efficient decisions, getting the insured back on their feet faster than ever before.

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