Caribbean FBOs Detail 2017 Hurricane-relief Efforts

 - June 14, 2018, 8:17 AM
Bohlke International Airways and partner AeroMD airlifted more than 100 critically ill patients from the Caribbean in the 105 days after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated several islands in the Caribbean in September, according to company president and chief pilot William "Billy" Bohlke. (Photo: Chad Trautvetter/AIN)

Two FBOs in the Caribbean—Bohlke International Airways at St. Croix Henry E. Rohlsen Airport and Jet Aviation San Juan—outlined their roles in relief efforts following Hurricanes Irma and Maria at the Caribbean Aviation Meetup in Nassau, Bahamas, yesterday. Managers at each of the facilities called Irma, which skirted their respective islands, good practice for what was to come 10 days later—a direct hit from a category 5 Maria.

According to Bohlke president and chief pilot William “Billy” Bohlke, the company and partner AeroMD performed more than 100 medical evacuation missions throughout the Caribbean in two Cessna Citations (a II and a Bravo) and an IAI Astra in the 105 days following Irma. Maria wiped out Bohlke’s FBO and hangars, but spared an unoccupied facility across the field where it was able to quickly transfer AeroMD’s ops center and its day-to-day FBO operations.

Meanwhile, Jet Aviation San Juan marketing director Frances Ryan said her facility moved 1.5 million pounds of humanitarian aid cargo in the aftermath of Irma and another four million after Maria. The company’s glass-faced FBO terminal, opened just three months before the hurricanes hit in September, survived Maria unscathed and “literally became the airport” and the center of relief effort operations at San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, handling more than 3,500 humanitarian flights and facilitating the flow of 27,000 passengers into and out of the country in the following three months, as well as 2,000 critical patient transfers.

The road to recovery will take time for both facilities, they said. Bohlke is still working to get permits to tear down its damaged facility and rebuild, which it hopes to complete by the end of next year. However, Bohlke said his company has yet to settle with the insurance companies and is concerned about obtaining building supplies, which have to be shipped in and are still in short supply.

Jet Aviation Puerto Rico, which lost its hangar as a result of Maria, already had prior approval to build what would have been a second hangar, with a concrete slab poured before Maria hit. It plans to open this new hangar by year-end, but Ryan said she is unsure when the damaged hangar could be torn down and rebuilt.

Ryan and Bohlke expressed gratitude to their respective employees, who worked long days in the aftermath of the hurricanes despite many suffering damages or total loss of personal property during Maria. Both companies also pulled out all the stops to provide for their employees and their families after Maria, providing generators, fuel, food, and water so employees were able to work without worrying about their families’ basic needs.