PT 2 M minute read

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.

On the night of May 19th, our FBO ground services team in Italy—Universal Aviation Italy—received an urgent request to support an COVID-19 air ambulance charter flight transporting two Italian brothers, infected with the virus, from Nigeria back to Rome for immediate treatment.

Repatriation flights during the pandemic are challenging due to the myriad requirements and approvals necessary. Flights with confirmed COVID-19 cases onboard, present even more obstacles. Given the very short-notice nature of this request, our team knew they were in for a very long night if this flight was going to happen!

The mission – return two Italian brothers to Rome from Nigeria for COVID-19 treatment

The flight was scheduled to depart from Port Harcourt International Airport in Nigeria. It would transport the brothers to the primary Italian hospital for COVID-19 treatment in Rome, called Ospedale Spallanzani.

Universal Aviation Italy’s Operations Manager, Andrea Sbracia, immediately began working on the myriad of logistical hurdles and regulatory approvals needed to be obtained before the flight’s arrival.

A lost hour of lead-time

The primary challenge in supporting this mission was the short lead time. Around midnight, we learned that our team lost an hour of lead time due to a last-minute schedule change.  The original arrival scheduled for 6:30 a.m. would now be 5:30 a.m. local, as the flight was departing an hour early…yikes!

It was going to be a long, hectic, and stressful night.

An airport change en route

The original and preferred plan was for the flight to land at Rome Ciampino Airport (LIRA). However, while en route from Nigeria, Andrea received more news that would make the flight even more logistically difficult. The Italian health authorities decided LIRA could not accept the flight. Our team then began coordinating logistics with our second airport option, Rome Fiumicino Airport (LIRF), which agreed to allow the flight.

An overnight coordination marathon

Now facing both an earlier-than-anticipated arrival and an airport change, Andrea worked throughout the night to make sure all the stakeholders were informed of the changes and were ready for the arrival.

This included working with the local police marshal, providing the relevant documentation and self-declaration forms, and coordinating with the airport for access to the tarmac for the ambulance vehicles. This in itself was very challenging, as the authorities required the license plate numbers of all vehicles, IDs for the drivers, and IDs for all team members supporting the arrival on-site.

Finally, our team received confirmation that the flight had permission to land, and parking was confirmed. Our team even had to make sure all fees were put on credit with Universal Aviation Italy, as the airport would not allow the pilots to physically swipe a credit card for payment.

Late that evening, our team arrived at the airport and donned full personal protective gear to supervise the arrival.

Before the sun rose that morning, the flight successfully landed, and the ill patients were taken by ambulance to the hospital for treatment.

Although the night was full of challenges and unexpected surprises, our Italy team members are proud that their efforts may help save the lives of the brothers.

We are all hopeful the brothers have a quick recovery and are back to full health soon!


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