Saturday, April 23, was going to be a busy day at the office for BC AERO. The workshop and hangars of the West Coast Pilot’s Club at the Langley airport would be filled with volunteers and guests. This was the site for the first-ever training session for members of the BC Airlift Emergency Response Operation hosted by Sean Heaps, president of BC AERO and owner of WCPC, and led by Sigmund B. Sort, chief preparedness officer for BC AERO. The day would also include a well-advertised open house where guests would tour the facility and meet the volunteers.
Early in the morning however, chaos was the order of the day. There were tables to be set up, aircraft parts to be moved, TVs to be hooked up, and chairs had to be found. “Swag” in the form of hoodies and T-shirts complete with the corporate logo had to be arranged.
Once the tables were all set, some higher power decided that the colour of the table cloths were wrong and they all needed to be changed. Eventually however, all was ready. Volunteer pilots once signed in would spend the day learning what and who BC AERO is, what has been accomplished to date, and what would be expected of them as participants when “the big one” occurs. The day-long sessions covered a range of need-to-know items from pilot qualifications to cross-border requirements. Sigmund’s dedication to safety and his background as an instructor and teacher was clearly demonstrated, and I noted that while it might have seemed that he never had an unspoken thought, his instruction was always on point.
We were instructed in marshalling aircraft, parking aircraft, loading aircraft whether they be on wheels or floats, on land or in the water, working around helicopters, awareness of both propellers, and rotors. What to touch and what not to. For example, no placing cargo on the wing of a low-wing aircraft. And on and on it went, only relieved occasionally by coffee or nature breaks.
A hands-on session that included both loading and unloading an aircraft with emphasis on safety as well as weight and balance and gross weight concerns rounded out the day. Experienced staff led by Claire Neufeld, who was instrumental in the success of the November event, provided the expertise.
All of this effort was in preparation for the first international cross-border disaster exercise to be held in cooperation with “Operation Thunder Run” planned for Saturday, June 18. The Washington-based DART and California CalDART groups will be testing their ability to respond to a simulated tsunami by flying supplies and personnel across Washington state in a dawn-to-dusk operation. They have 50 airplanes and volunteer pilots ready to go. BC AERO has been invited to join in. Our contribution will be the “real-time” experience gained responding to the 2021 disaster in southern British Columbia.
Approximately 20 Canadian pilots will be flying from Langley to Bellingham, Washington, and perhaps even beyond carrying some 30,000 pounds of donated non-perishable food stocks to Washington state. Just moving all that food could take as many as three flights each requiring at least three “round robin” flights. This requires not only the full coordination and cooperation with CBSA and U.S. Customs officials on both sides of the border but also that each pilot have his or her ducks in a row. In addition to personal documentation such as passports, pilot’s license, current C of A, proof of insurance, and a current customs decal. CANPAS and eAPIS filings will be needed as well as COVID vaccination proof, and pilots will be required to wear photo identification badges that clearly identify them as members of BC AERO. We may even be able provide transportation for some media types such as the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun.
Now I just hope my new passport and customs decal comes in time. Thanks to COVID I hadn’t looked at the passport in a while and sure enough it had expired. And then just for the icing on the cake, I caught COVID after having three vaccinations.