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Road Warrior

Airlines helping to save lives with humanitarian efforts

Harriet Baskas, special to CNBC
Through its Humanitarian Delivery Flight Program, Boeing has worked with 50 airline customers to deliver more than 1.4 million pounds of supplies. 26 of those flights have been on Ethiopian Airlines planes.
Source: Boeing

Airlines, which have been making money hand over fist as energy costs decline and passenger traffic rises, are applying some of that bounty toward humanitarian purposes.

The industry is helping to offset a $15 billion funding hole in global disaster relief by flying supplies to needy countries. A recent United Nations report found that while at least $40 billion in humanitarian aid is needed annually to help victims of natural disasters and armed conflicts worldwide, the world spends only $25 billion a year on securing and getting food, water, shelter, medical supplies and other emergency resources to far flung regions.

Since 2008, airlines such as Emirates, JetBlue, South African Airways, Thai Airways and Vietnam Airlines have worked with Airbus on at least 30 delivery flights. Those flights have brought more than 250 tons of humanitarian relief to areas of Nepal, Colombia, Thailand, Africa and Haiti.

The airlines certainly have their work cut out for them. A tumultuous global economy is giving birth to new disasters virtually all the time, and the costs associated with rushing humanitarian relief to where it will do the most good are high. For this reason, a variety of alliances between airlines, aircraft manufacturers and nongovernmental organizations have stepped into the void.

Through its foundation arm, aircraft manufacturer Airbus has been filling otherwise empty new aircraft in Germany and France with humanitarian relief supplies destined for disaster-hit regions. On more than 15 occasions, Airbus has also used its test planes to deliver additional supplies quickly in the aftermath of disasters.

"The flights are happening anyway and the pilots and the fuel are already paid for," said Airbus Foundation spokeswoman Deborah Waddon. Nongovernmental organizations "arrange for the cargo, we make donations for the cost of the cargo, the loading is often done for free and the airlines cover just an incremental fuel cost for the extra cargo."