Aviation First Secures Global Food Assistance Amid COVID-19

The World Food Program (WFP) has partnered with the Flight Safety Foundation’s Basic Aviation Risk Standard (BARS) Program to support health and humanitarian partners responding to COVID-19 and ongoing humanitarian crises around the world through its joint initiative ‘Program-Connect’.

Prior to the pandemic, around 50 per cent of food and aid cargo was carried on commercial passenger flights. Between April and June 2020, the largest air passenger capacity drop in decades saw international flights dropped by 92 per cent, challenging health and humanitarian organizations’ ability to deliver critical supplies to countries in need.

To ensure uninterrupted humanitarian workers and cargo movement, WFP stepped up to support the global COVID-19 response by leveraging its logistics capacity and expertise to fill gaps created by the reduction in the commercial availability.

Chief of WFP Aviation Safety Unit Mario Sibrian said WFP aviation remains a lifeline service to transport humanitarian passengers.

“WFP air passenger services have been a vital link for humanitarians and health workers trying to reach the pandemic response frontline,” Mr Sibrian said.

Under the Program-Connect Initiative, BARS’ 120+ Registered Aircraft Operators can be evaluated against the United Nations Aviation Standards’ WFP requirements and are eligible to join the WFP’s Registered Aircraft Operators.

Former Chief of WFP Aviation Safety Unit Jose Odini said Program-Connect aligns WFP with reliable aviation partners around the world that have been through the extensive safety evaluations demanded by the BARS Program.

“Program-Connect will allow WFP to identify air operators registered and/or being registered with FSF’s BARS, which may be interested in completing the registration  with WFP for the benefit of the humanitarian community, therefore linking both registration systems,” Mr Odini said.

“This will create positive synergy, eliminating overlaps between the respective WFP and FSF BARS risk evaluation systems and generating a positive complementarity between them.”

As airspace restrictions have slowly relaxed in some countries and commercial carriers have returned to the skies, WFP has accordingly discontinued flights to some of the destinations served so far.  It still, however, maintains services to locations around the world that remain without safe and reliable commercial options and continues to open new destinations based on the health and humanitarian community’s needs.

Despite the extreme challenges posed by COVID-19, WFP’s mandated United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) operations continue to serve the humanitarian and development communities, covering 21 countries. In 2020, UNHAS operations transported 170,000 passengers, while cargo delivery by air reached over 2,300 mt, amid COVID-19 restrictions and flight suspensions within March-July 2020.

BARS Program managing director David Anderson said Program-Connect is the first initiative of its kind in the contract aviation industry.

“We are extremely proud to extend the benefits of the BARS Program to support the important work conducted by the WFP and provide a recognized structure to evaluate the safety of potential humanitarian flight contractors,” Mr Anderson said.

“Program-Connect will expand WFP’s global network and mobilize our already existing network of operators in 28 countries, including Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America.”

Program-Connect is launching in November 2020, with the first audit available in late 2020 or early 2021.

The initiative comes as BARS celebrates its 10-year anniversary, prior to which there was no single global aviation standard to evaluate the safety of contract aircraft operators.

According to Mr Anderson, the downward trend in contract aviation accidents in the onshore resource sector correlates to the growth of the BARS Program.

“Evidence shows the number of contract aircraft accidents can increase when activity surges in a sector,” he said.

“As Program-Connect encourages aircraft operators to implement rigorous risk management and safety assurance, we are confident this downward trend in the onshore resource sector will be replicated in the humanitarian industry despite the increased need for aid.”

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