Select Page

CRUCIAL CONNECTIONS In January, the FedEx employees Frank Caswell, left, and George Cunningham awaited a shipment of medical relief supplies from World Vision, to be delivered to Haiti.

Published: November 10, 2010

WAYNE YANKOVICH was at his home in Indianapolis on his day off when he heard that an earthquake had just struck Haiti. His wife, Louise, was downstairs watching CNN and immediately relayed the news.

Mr. Yankovich, who works as a loadmaster in FedEx’s charter division, knew he might be asked to fly soon. So he called his boss, Walter Hooker, at the company’s headquarters in Memphis and volunteered for any relief missions. Within a few hours, he was told to get to Miami in 48 hours to meet an MD-11 airliner arriving from Denver that was filled with relief supplies collected by World Vision, a Christian group dedicated to eradicating poverty.

Because the airport in Port-au-Prince could not handle so large a plane, the airliner crew flew to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, from where the supplies would be trucked into Haiti. The crew then flew to Panama to pick up another load of supplies at an American Red Cross warehouse and brought it back to Santo Domingo.

The relief mission was one of hundreds that FedEx, U.P.S., D.H.L. and other carriers and airlines fly every year. The airlines pick up supplies around the United States, and from countries like Denmark and Dubai, and carry them to places as diverse as Haiti, Chile, Pakistan and the Gulf Coast.

In most cases, the airlines transport the supplies free, part of a growing pool of in-kind donations they make each year. Each year, FedEx sets aside space for as much as four million pounds of charitable shipping. Last year, the airline helped 172 organizations ship 107 tons of relief goods.

Jumping on a plane for a whirlwind trip to three countries was nothing new for Mr. Yankovich. But the mission this time was more meaningful. “It sure is different because you know you’re doing something good, and you know that the items you’re bringing in are going to be used for a different purpose, to help human beings,” said Mr. Yankovich, who has worked at FedEx for 22 years. “At the end of the day, you come back and say, ‘I really think I’ve helped someone.’ ”

This year, FedEx has donated more than $1.9 million in cash and in-kind transportation for relief and recovery in Haiti, moving more than 1.5 million pounds of supplies. After the earthquake in Sichuan, China, in 2008, FedEx delivered $1.5 million worth of relief supplies from Heart to Heart, a development organization. The airline shipped two million pounds of relief products to the Gulf Coast during the 2005 hurricane season.

In all, charitable giving (including cash and in-kind donations) came to 1.5 percent of pretax profits last fiscal year, excluding one-time charges, up from 1.1 percent in fiscal year 2008.

On average, American corporations donate 0.9 percent of their pretax profits. The growing in-kind giving by airlines and other companies helped offset a 3.6 percent decline in overall giving in 2009, according to GivingUSA, which tracks philanthropy.

In the last three years, U.P.S. has shipped hundreds of tons of relief supplies to Myanmar, China, Zimbabwe and Haiti, as well as to states affected by flooding and hurricanes. To Haiti, U.P.S. delivered more then three million pounds of materials, including water, water purification systems, medical supplies, generators and tents.

American Airlines made more than $34 million in in-kind donations to nonprofit groups in 2009. After the earthquake in Haiti, American and American Eagle flew in 400,000 pounds of aid and evacuated more than 700 people on 30 humanitarian flights.

American Airlines, which has been in Haiti for about 40 years, also helped rebuild Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport, which had been recertified by the F.A.A. American also converted its cargo terminal into an international arrivals building.

“This is getting into the fiber of the country and picking it up with your hands,” said Art Torno, who ran the Caribbean region for American Airlines when the earthquake hit. “We’re not just an airline, but an economic engine that powers cargo and people.”

In years past, relief efforts were organized ad hoc. After disaster struck, charities would call the airlines asking them to carry supplies to those in need. It could take days to sort out whether the relief supplies were needed in the disaster zone and getting the supplies to the airport and distributed.

But shipping relief supplies from Point A to Point B has become far more orderly, with entire staffs working with charities, finding planes and crews to transport the supplies and ensuring that the right goods get to those who need them most.

FedEx has perhaps the most extensive system for accepting and shipping relief supplies. To reduce confusion, the carrier has selected five primary charities — the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Water Missions, Direct Relief and Heart to Heart International.

“It’s better to figure out what FedEx is doing rather than recreate the wheel,” said Brett Williams, the director of disaster response at Direct Relief International. “FedEx pushes us to think bigger because they operate on a global scale.”

FedEx has 15 meteorologists and other staff members who monitor news and weather reports — a useful early warning system in the event of emergencies. When disaster strikes, flight operations managers assign crew members, who typically volunteer to fly charter flights when needed. (Crews are paid, but sometimes give up their vacation days.) Sometimes, they fight through red tape to get landing and fly-through rights.

On charter flights to places where FedEx does not have operations, including Port-au-Prince, loadmasters like Mr. Yankovich tally the cargo, load and unload it and handle customs issues.

“We’re the 911 line for FedEx,” said Paul Tronsor, the managing director for the FedEx Global Operations Control, which is responsible for all FedEx aircraft and large vehicles. “There are very few things that we’ve not seen and had a plan for.”

FedEx, for example, ships supplies from Heart to Heart’s warehouse to disaster areas anywhere in the world within one to three days. In 2007, FedEx helped move $107 million in medical supplies for the group, which has sent disaster relief to countries from China to Honduras. Heart to Heart is now building storage at FedEx hubs in France and China to further speed up the shipment of relief supplies.

“When you have products stored in these other facilities, it expedites it even further,” said Andre T. Butler, the chief executive of Heart to Heart, whose headquarters is in Olathe, Kan. “They’ll send it free of charge. If we had to go purchase that, we wouldn’t exist.”

During the last two decades, companies have systemized their in-kind giving to satisfy shareholders who want charitable giving to have a positive impact on their bottom line, according to Dwight F. Burlingame, the associate executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

For airlines and other companies, helping people in need in less developed countries is not just for tax breaks and good P.R., but also a way to build bonds in fast-growing markets where they hope to expand.

At home, airlines and other logistics companies are also helping charities streamline their operations so they can become more efficient at all times. U.P.S., for instance, has helped the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, known as CARE, install software that tracks supplies in all its warehouses.

“In many corporations, they look at doing a little of this and a little of that,” said Helene D. Gayle, the chief executive of CARE. “They were able to help us so we could get help to people quicker.”

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This