STILL FLYING: 2 COVID-19 REPATRIATION FLIGHTS THAT REUNITED FAMILIES
While news headlines focus on the decline of international travel, it’s important to remember that many essential and critical missions are still being conducted by the general and business aviation communities. Many of these missions save lives or reunite people with their loved ones. During a crisis like COVID-19, our industry shines.
A daughter desperate to reach her elderly mother
As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged Italy’s healthcare system, the trickle-down impacted everyone. This was the case for an elderly woman in Palermo, Sicily. The woman’s nurse who helped take care of her was called to the front lines to help the overrun hospitals battle COVID-19.
The woman’s daughter, who lives in Switzerland, desperately tried to find a replacement. But with nearly all healthcare workers deployed to fight the virus, she was having no luck.
With no options, the daughter decided to travel to Palermo to take care of her mother. However, due to Italy’s flight restrictions and airport closures, she had no way of reaching her mother.
Universal Aviation Italy steps in
Upon learning of the situation, our Universal Aviation Italy team immediately used its contacts to discuss the matter with local and country-level authorities. The team discovered that only Sicily’s Regional President had the authority to approve the flight.
Our team wrote a formal letter to the President, explaining the urgency of the situation and asking for permission to make the flight happen.
Not long after, to our delight, we received an official replay signed by the President, himself, authorizing the mission.
A happy reunion
A few hours later, a relieved and thankful daughter boarded her charter flight in Switzerland and took off for Palermo.
Stranded in Namibia
In late March, our Trip Support teams received an urgent request with less than 48 hours’ lead time to arrange a mission from Geneva to Windhoek, Namibia, to repatriate stranded Swiss citizens.
The Swiss nationals had been on vacation when the COVID-19 pandemic forced flight restrictions and border closures around the world. The shutdown happened so fast that they had no chance to exit the country. In fact, there were told not to even leave their hotel rooms.
48 hours to secure 17 permits
With no commercial flights available, a charter was the only recourse. The challenge was securing the necessary 17 permits needed to make the flight in less than 48 hours. This mission would test the perseverance and persistence of our teams.
Permit denied…But persistence prevails
Initially, we were denied the required landing permit and told that no aircraft could enter Namibia. However, with great persistence, we were able to convince Namibia Civil Aviation to grant us a narrow window to get in, pick up the pax, and depart before the airport closed.
Complicating the mission were curfews in both Geneva and Windhoek. And because the crew could not stay overnight in Windhoek, a double crew had to be arranged to get around crew rest hours.
On the morning of departure, we had all permits secure minus one: Cameroon. The Cameroonian CAA was waiting on a signature from their director. With no time to wait, the charter took off without the permit to avoid missing the Windhoek airport closure. If the permit was not secured, the aircraft would turn around midair for Geneva.
With the flight in the air and mere hours until the decision to turn around would have to be made, our teams got the Cameroonian permit! The flight continued on to Windhoek and successfully brought the grateful and relived Swiss passengers home.
After the adrenaline finally wore off, our teams breathed a sigh of relief, proud that they were able to come through for these stranded individuals who had no other options for getting home.