Executing an operations plan before, during and after a hurricane is not out of the ordinary for most major fleet operators, and Flexjet, the second-largest seller of fractional shares is no exception. However, this time was a bit different, its chief operating officer Megan Wolf tells Private Jet Card Comparisons.
One of the nice things about having access to a private jet is being able to get to places that take more time if you are flying commercially, and so it was that a number Flexjet’s owners had homes in areas of the Bahamas that were hardest hit by Hurricane Dorian.
While Flexjet is used to last-minute calls from owners sending flights to help relatives and friends get out of the way of an oncoming storm, the nature of being on the low lying islands made the storm’s danger much greater.
In the case of its owners who had second homes there, even though it’s off-season, Wolf says they know locals who work for them at those houses or run local businesses they patronize who over time had become “extended family” to them, she says.
To help speed the evacuation, she said Flexjet dedicated one of its Bombardier Challenger 300s to fly in and out like a shuttle making about five roundtrips.
As operations wound down in the Bahamas, the action she said moved to Florida whereas it was ferrying jets to help customers and their families get out as well.
The flights south were packed with relief supplies which were dropped off at Flexjet’s private terminal in Palm Beach so they were positioned to get to the Bahamas as soon as possible afterwards.
As Dorian closed in on Florida, she said real-time communication became even more critical. For example, while airports stayed open some FBOs were closing. At the same time, Flexjet moved its Palm Beach employees to the west coast where it has a facility in Naples.
At its operations center in Cleveland, she said the biggest problem was sending people home to get rest. “Nobody wanted to leave. Everybody wanted to stay and do whatever was needed,” she said.
As the storm passed, she said Flexjet swung into action working to get friends and family of customers who had evacuated to Nassau back to the United States.
“We sent pilots to Sam’s Club and Costco to buy whatever they could – tents, water, diapers, Gatorade”Megan Wolf, chief operating officer, Flexjet
“We had a number of empty legs coming in,” she said, however, they came in filled with supplies. “We sent pilots to Sam’s Club and Costco to buy whatever they could – tents, water, diapers, Gatorade,” which were then taken to the Odyssey FBO in Nassau to then move to the impacted areas.
Temporary flight restrictions, imposed in part because of drone activity and also a multitude of light aircraft without transponders that were flying in with supplies, has made the operation more challenging than after other storms, she tells us.
Also, getting the relief to the people still stranded on the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama has been frustrating. “It has been touch and go – even for the relief – where the help can go – doctors and care packages – We can only get them as far as Nassau,” she noted.
Wolf said part of running an unscheduled private airline is being ready to go at a moment’s notice. “Even if our owners aren’t down there – they might call to have us fly a classmate or cousin who couldn’t get on commercial flights because they are full,” she noted.
She said while Flexjet veterans are used to it, perhaps most surprised about the esprit de corps was the over 170 new pilots that have come on board this year.
The first surprise came from those who lived along Dorian’s projected path. Wolf says it releases those pilots from its roster about a week in advance, something many of them didn’t expect. The move allows them to have the time to prepare their homes and evacuate their families, and do whatever they feel necessary.
At the same time, she pilots who weren’t scheduled to work volunteered in such large numbers it was able to fly not only extra missions due to the hurricane but no flights for its customers were impacted. As of Wednesday, Wolf said Flexjet was still ferrying supplies to the Bahamas.
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