Still Flying: Business Aviation Making a Difference during the COVID-19 Epidemic.

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As reported in this week’s news, humanitarian and Alibaba founder, Jack Ma, donated one million face masks and a half million COVID-19 test kits to the U.S., flown from China to the U.S in a Boeing 777 on March 16, 2020.

While much of the world was shutting down and restrictions on flights were expanding by the minute, this critical mission was able to happen—and Universal was proud to be part of it. 

With the U.S. ban on air traffic from China, this was not going to be an ordinary flight. It was going to take careful navigation of the complex, continually-changing regulatory hurdles that awaited.

Our people were up to the task. We had teams in China, Hong Kong, and Houston all working together to make it happen, and they recognized the sense of urgency with which everything needed to get done.

Our regulatory experts were relentless, burning up the phones with our contacts at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to secure the required permissions.

At the same time, our trip support teams had to plan for every logistical detail involved. There wasn’t even an exact destination worked out! We had to determine where the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) could take ownership of this important cargo and how it would be unloaded from the aircraft.

After Memphis, TN was chosen as the destination, our teams then turned their attention to how to the flight was going to be handled on the ground and its cargo physically unloaded. Traditional FBOs in Memphis are not equipped to support an aircraft the size of a Boeing 777 nor that much cargo.

After hitting several dead ends, we reached out to our colleagues at FedEx. Although this was obviously not part of their normal wheelhouse, they were more than happy to help. Their reply, “We’re humanitarians. Let’s get this done!”

For the duration of the journey from China into the U.S., the mission faced more regulatory challenges and COVID-19-driven anxieties. It took close to a hundred calls and 72 hours of round-the-clock work to get all the permissions the flight needed. With literally minutes to spare, the final permissions came in, and the flight was able to successfully land!

It took our people around the world, our relationships with regulating authorities, our partners, and our friends to make it all happen. A big THANK YOU to FedEx for its critical support!

These missions like these that remind us why we all do what we do, why we love working in Business Aviation—and for me and my colleagues, why we love working at Universal.

Despite the sometimes stressful and tense moments a challenging mission can create, the end result of knowing that Universal and Business Aviation are making positive differences in peoples’ lives—especially during challenging times of crisis—is the greatest reward.

Blue Skies


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