“When the skies go dark, we run towards the darkness.”
It’s a strong statement from Brad Pierce, the president of Restaurant Equipment World and volunteer with the non-profit AEROBridge. But it’s one he stands by based on his countless experiences with others in business aviation.
“Aircraft owners and operators are some of the most generous people that I have had the honor of knowing. The money doesn’t matter. The dollars don’t matter,” he said.
Pierce said the same reasons his company uses business aviation – the ability to quickly get closer to your destination without the delays or restrictions of commercial air – are some of the main reasons privately-owned aircraft are perfect for disaster relief.
That’s how AEROBridge began. In 2005 when Hurricane Katrina brought devastation to the Gulf Coast, five people decided to help and started organizing and dispatching relief missions utilizing privately-owned aircraft. Hundreds of flights, thousands of passengers and hundreds of thousands of pounds of supplies rounded out the initial response from AEROBridge alone. Since then, the non-profit has grown significantly with volunteers providing use of more than 2,100 aircraft to step in at a moment’s notice.
The initial response is what AEROBridge specializes in. The speed in which the organization can get supplies to those who are in need is one of the major ways it supports after disasters.
“After a natural disaster in the panhandle of Florida, trucks were doing 21-hour routes while we were running planes back and forth in just 30 minutes,” Pierce said.
The mission is focused around “bridging” the gap.
“We are a bridge of life sustainment for that first five to seven to ten days after a disaster occurs. We’re there until official help arrives and then we step back. We basically quietly fade into the background until the next disaster occurs,” he said.
“Aircraft owners and operators are some of the most generous people that I have had the honor of knowing.” – Brad Pierce, AEROBridge volunteer
Once Hurricane Dorian hit in 2019, Pierce said he truly entered into the AEROBridge world and quickly became an integral member of the team. He was able to secure permits and flight authorizations and within two days of the hurricane, he was contacted by a friend with a CESSNA CITATION CJ2 jet full of gear who was ready to go.
The quick pace would only pick up. Pierce put out a call on social media asking for additional supplies and within minutes had a message from someone willing to donate 10,000 Meals Ready-to-Eat (MRE’s). After delivering the MRE’s, they evacuated people and brought additional supplies in the CJ2 aircraft.
“In cases like Hurricane Dorian and even in places like the panhandle, it’s accessibility. During floods and fires where there are impasses and road problems, we can jump over the problem and get on scene incredibly quickly. We can get supplies in and people out,” he said.
However, the supplies AEROBridge carries aren’t always what you might expect. Pierce said volunteers carry supplies that are often not on a relief truck until a week or two after the disaster but are just as essential for recipients.
“What we see is traditional emergency management leaves out pieces like baby formula and medicines, diapers, dog food and cat food. Pets are hugely important to people. It is one of those things that just doesn’t go into traditional emergency management,” he said. “We were moving a ton of doctors too.”
Pierce said though he’s volunteered his time and aircraft for medical flights and some disaster relief in the past, AEROBridge opened his eyes even more to the community of business aviation.
“The more money I make and the more revenue we generate, the more that I can give away to others in times of need.”
– Brad Pierce, AEROBridge volunteer
“Nobody becomes successful and nobody grows a company or a business without the help of other people. Everybody needs other people. When the skies turn dark and things go bad in this world, I think there is an inherent desire to help. Most people in this world are good people and they realize they got to where they are with the help of others,” he said.
That’s how Pierce sees his success in business.
“The more money I make and the more revenue we generate, the more that I can give away to others in times of need,” he said.