HLA was represented by Chief Executive George Fenton, who emphasized improved multi-sector collaboration to maximize efficiency

On 21st May, HLA had a strong presence at the much-needed sector-specific workshop on Humanitarian Aviation, which took place in Leipzig, Germany. The meeting, held on the sidelines of the 2019 International Transport Forum, was jointly organized by Leipzig/Halle Airport, Volga-Dnepr Group and the Akkon University of Human Sciences. It enabled the stakeholders present to explore specifically how air transport can aid humanitarian efforts, using Germany as a reference point. As such, it brought together actors from the (German) NGO sector, commercial air transport industry, academia, and the donor community.

The conference was organized into workshops and practical demonstrations, and themes covered in the various sessions included humanitarian access, airport preparedness, and Emergency Medical Team (EMT) logistics. HLA was represented by the Chief Executive George Fenton, who facilitated a discussion group that explored the ways in which the NGO sector can get up to speed and be better prepared to respond collaboratively (with other stakeholders) during emergencies. They also identified the challenges that must be overcome in order to improve the implementation of EMTs including bureaucracy and cost, as well as how to better mobilize local aviation capacity. 

Mr. Fenton also moderated a panel discussion, where the issue of the clear gap that exists when it comes to strategic coordination of (air) humanitarian logistics was identified. There was an agreement from the group that more work is needed in this area, and as such agreed, in principle, to hold ongoing discussions in this regard.

“Aircraft are important in certain local contexts, as we saw during the Cyclone Idai response in Mozambique. However, there is not enough coordination to ensure that they work efficiently. More connectedness will certainly lead to more cost effectiveness, and that is what we explored in this workshop”. – George Fenton

As German humanitarian NGOs have a particular interest and see great value in deploying the WHO-certified EMTs, there were some practical demonstrations of what this entails. EMT logistics is seen as very specific German development due to the concentration on medical activities inside Germany, and hence have comparative expertise in this area. The Volga-Dnepr Group, who is leading the charge for the need to do things differently to improve efficiency, also gave a demonstration of some of the unique capabilities of two of the aircraft in their extensive fleet.

“One of the initiatives we’re advancing is for consolidated cargo, which means NGOs share space on bigger aircraft, giving them service and space at a cheaper price, ensuring that they are able to reach more people much more quickly during emergencies. As a first step, we are launching a survey to understand the needs of the NGO community. The findings will help make a strong business case to take this forward.”

Stuart Smith, Director Global Humanitarian, Volga-Dnepr Group

Action Help Germany– a coalition of 10 major GermanNGOs including World Vision, Welthungerhilfe, Action Medeor, DRK – also gave an insight into how they have cooperated with each other including sharing details on lift capacity projects, and some past joint funding for charter flights. It was a useful case study into the German context, even as the workshop participants sought ways by which they could develop useful examples that work, and which can be replicated in other contexts. As such, the discussions also explored the response to recent cyclone Idai in Mozambique, and what lessons that presents for more efficient use of air cargo transport during such emergencies.

Key conclusions and way forward

  • The need for cross-sector collaboration from donors, public, private, and the NGO sectors was a recurring theme from the workshop discussions, with recognition from both the German government and the NGO community that there is a place for improved efficiency in coordinating and sharing transport assets in disaster response. This was identified to be vital in order to prevent wastage and duplication, and make efforts more aligned. Overall, buy-in fromEU member states is vital for effective air logistics coordination.
  • Germany – as a donor country – has an approach to the funding and organization of air cargo that differs from other EU nations, and which presents both opportunities and challenges. As the German government view towards the role of donated air cargo is to be neutral (not seen as involving in other nations affairs), its aid interventions are less bilateral in this regard, and this can present some challenges with coordination and efficiency.
  • There is still a lot of learning and improvement that can be done to enhance the impact of the EMTs. For example, while there is standardisation on the purpose and objectives of the EMTs, the cargo components themselves are less standardized with different suppliers in place. One solution advanced is for a possible increased role of the specialist Robert Koch Institute to interface between the German EMTs, government, and the WHO, in this regard.
  • There is interest and space for the private sector to introduce some sector-specific initiatives in the field of cargo transportation. This include in the area of special considerations regarding contracting and frame partnerships; the development of a technological platform for aircraft space share and consolidation; and special conditions and services that airports may create and offer for humanitarian value-add. A good exampleof private sector engagement cited was the UNOCHA established ‘connecting business initiative’ (CBI) groupin the Philippines, which is a valuable sector cluster approach for private sector partners.
  • There is a need for a stronger and improved donor-led engagement with the transport outputs of NGOs and agencies. This is in terms of the coordination of assets – who flies where and with what –, and possibly an intermediary role for a coordinator between the donor and the various actors.


Photo credit: Christian Backmund Fotografie