Disaster Airlift Response Plan Becoming Multi-State
As the development of the Disaster Airlift Response Teams (DART’s) grows in my state it is good to see some key aspects occurring. First is the need for pilots to be organized in a format that emergency professionals are able to interact with effectively, as with the proven DARP system out of California that is now occurring in our state. Second, unlike land-based airfield environments, the DART seaplane response wing has a very different operational environment that can be high risk if there is no safety orientation or properly attired and educated ground support. Where land-based airstrips have fences, gates, and clear separated waiting areas, a lot of the float operations will frequently find that separation not present, but with training it can be safe. The below pictures will show this difference. In many respects there are a lot of parallels between the float end point operations environment and a World War II aircraft carrier deck. It can be a very safe and effective operation, but training is important.
The live drills we did from 2009 until recent, which include one being a land-based food flight between CA and WA involving 320 lbs. of food, were critical in developing these criteria. Also key is my experience with stopping and helping at traffic accidents and other emergencies. In particular, an effective CPR where I was one of 4 strangers who were able to work together because our training was the same. That was about as high-stressed a situation as possible.
California’s Disaster Airlift Response Plan (DARP) is a great example of well-structured organization. After having worked with the two developers of the program and meeting the head I believe their format is an excellent way to effectively manage/organize pilot groups for maximum effectiveness. There are other ways but they have established a very well developed structure that is now gaining ground in our state.
CalPilots – https://calpilots.org/dart/
It’s also critical to have the national connection that is provided by Air Care Alliance (ACA) and the generous support and information on the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps (EVAC) web page. They also provide a national frame work already in place to tap into the national pool of pilots for additional resources. That has helped greatly in the formation of the West Coast General Aviation Response Plan (WCGARP).
Proper ground crew training and equipping is the second main task of these rescue organizations. Now that the material exists to pre-train ground support, this is an area that is now seeing development in our state. One of the biggest reasons for a zero injury/accident occurrence with our exercises from 2009 to recent is we developed experienced ground support personnel to mentor the new ones. We listened to the pilots and by the time we had the larger drills we understood what to expect from each other. We were taking people who had never in their life seen a float up close and they were working directly with these aircraft safely.
The other aspect is many of the normal barriers that prevent plane-people interactions in an airfield are non-existent in float bases. If handled well this isn’t a problem as the pilots themselves are very good at keeping their planes and people safe as they operate in this environment all the time. That is one of their many strengths. The other aspect is, unlike a land-based environment, you are literally handling aircraft and control surfaces. But when you throw in the mix the high stress, chaotic environment of a post-catastrophic event then the preparedness of ground support staff is crucial for the safety of volunteers and the prevention of damage to planes.
Studying the following pictures shows better than words can how unique a float environment is.
This is not to say that every single point of contact with floats needs to have a trained ground team, as that would negate the float aviation’s effectiveness in terms of going out and assisting damaged areas. But at least the main Base areas and pick up points should have some level of safety training/awareness.
In that regard it has been good to see many states including Washington realize the value of land/float general aviation and importance of training.
Floats coming in back to back
One float unloading as another comes in
Getting people in can require more ground support
Unlike land bases, float bases you physically handle/move aircraft
Running props and people don’t mix, but it can be safe if everyone knows the boundaries
Again coming out under full power, unimproved exit point
Ground guiding with predefined expectations.
Moving aircraft around properly with a ground crew educated on what to touch and what to stay clear of.
People handling aircraft know where to and not to touch
Pilot moving aircraft into position for float pivot maneuver
Float pivot maneuver, only people familiar should be doing this, under pilot direction
Always important to know where to and not to hold
Turning the plane 180 degrees, again important to know what to hold, what not to
Bringing a plane in, again very important to know what to hold and when (especially the wing ropes)
Depending on what is being loaded, you’re getting in the water to do so.
Sky Terry is a contributing editor at Seaplanemagazine.com bringing you information in the area of seaplanes in disaster response. If you wish to become a contributing editor here, feel free to contact [email protected]!