Earlier this week, two FedEx charter flights delivered 178,000 pounds of relief supplies to the people of Nepal. Aid on those flights included water treatment systems, water chlorinators and storage tanks designed to serve 430,000 people a day, three daily meals for almost 1,700 people for a month and maternity/infant supplies for 5,000 expectant mothers.
The following interview with Paul Tronsor, managing director for FedEx Express global operations control (GOC), describes how FedEx, along with global aid organizations, managed through the shifting landscape to get the right supplies to the right place, at the right time.
(In photo left to right: Paul Tronsor, FedEx Global Operations Control; Heather Bennett Director, Foundation & Corporate Development at Direct Relief; Dave Lange, FedEx Charters)
Q. Talk about the last two weeks? When did FedEx first get involved in the Nepal relief efforts?
A. When this disaster hit, our Global Citizenship team reached out to relief agencies. FedEx can get packages where you need them, when you need them, but in the case of a disaster, lives depend on the type of aid that is truly needed on the ground. For every disaster it’s different. Water purifiers may be in Delhi, medical supplies in California, people on the ground could need something else. We also immediately looked at staging and delivery options to get the mission completed.
Early on, our Aircraft Dispatchers in GOC predicted Katmandu airport would suffer from weight strain and we had concerns about the runway stability. So we looked at multiple configurations to get the aid in – including driving cargo from India by truck. Our concern there was delivery trucks would get bottlenecked at the border. On the other hand, we had to weigh whether our aircraft could get into Nepal and if there was fuel available there for the return leg.
So it was a true balancing act – how to get in with as much aid as possible and get back out.
Q. So the conditions on the ground were shifting, crumbling runways, efforts to get people out of the danger zone, what else?
A. A good portion of the communication networks in Nepal have been decimated and it really took us a while to get accurate information. Contrast this with Hurricane Katrina or Sandy here in the U.S. where we could get into an airport as soon as it was operational and running because we were able to stay in communication with the FAA and the airport authority.
For Nepal, we had to take a more measured approach. We had hundreds of people lining up to volunteer and thousands wanting to donate aid but we had to weigh the situation on the ground very critically. The last thing we wanted was the relief aid to be stuck in customs because there was no one in Nepal to receive… or stuck on a tarmac getting spoiled due to heat conditions. Goods stuck in the U.S. would help no one.
Q. How did it come together and how many people did it take?
A. I would say in all we had more than 200 FedEx team members on the job not to count the relief agencies like Direct Relief, Heart to Heart International and Water Missions International. On the FedEx side, this included the FedEx Charter Team leading most of the operational planning, my team at GOC and multiple FedEx operating companies driving truckloads of supplies across the U.S., load masters and Aircraft Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) in Memphis and Dubai. Even a team member in India who volunteered to drive across the border to make sure the aid was offloaded and delivered.
Q. Why did FedEx decide to use two charters?
A. The airport in Nepal imposed weight restrictions on incoming aircraft due to the strain placed on the one runway at the airport in Katmandu. As late as last Monday we heard there was no available fuel on the ground in Nepal, so we would also need to plan to carry fuel with us for the return leg. Our Managing Director of Charter Flights, Dave Lange, proposed two charters, using Dubai for refueling and staging in and out of Katmandu. Everyone was focused on a solution that left no aid from the effort undelivered.
In under an hour, Dave had approval on the FedEx side to add a second leg, and aid was being sent to Dubai using our regularly scheduled commercial flights for pre-staging.
Then we bit our nails again as we waited to see if we could get the necessary government approvals. We are talking not just Nepal, but approvals from Dubai, India, Germany, and other nations for the necessary landing slots and country overfly permissions. We were nervous with conditions shifting as much as they were, but the government liaisons were terrific. We got the permits giving us the o.k. to land on Sunday and Monday this week.
Q. Mission completed, what sticks out most in your mind?
A. Two things.
One: We didn’t have to make the tough decision to leave any aid behind. I know my team is thinking about that every time they take a sip of water from the fountain down the hall.
Two: The work we do with relief agencies is really a multiplier for good. FedEx is good at getting the right package to the right place. Working with the right people and relief agencies, we were able to combine the reach of our networks and the collective expertise of many groups to help as many people in Nepal as we could.
At the end of the day, it’s all about working for a company that enables you to do good it the world.
To learn more about FedEx disaster relief efforts, visit csr.fedex.com