FEMA relief shipment diverted to LAX

Big jumbo jet freighter on tarmac at night.

A planeload of medical supplies from China coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been redirected to Los Angeles International Airport after being scheduled to land this morning in Ohio, said Sarah McQuaide, a spokeswoman for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority.

The shipment is part of Project Airbridge, the FEMA-organized airlift that began on Sunday with a delivery of critical equipment for combating the coronavirus to New York’s JFK Airport. A second relief flight arrived at Chicago O’Hare Airport on Monday. Both flights were operated by Atlas Air (NASDAQ: AAWW) of Purchase, New York.

The third flight from Shanghai with gloves, gowns, goggles and masks was scheduled to land today at Rickenbacker International Airport outside Columbus, but was delayed until this morning and has now been diverted to Los Angeles, McQuaide told FreightWaves. Florida-based National Airlines is operating the flight using a Boeing 747-400 freighter.

A FEMA spokesperson confirmed that the shipment was rerouted to Los Angeles.

Rickenbacker is supposed to handle a total of three flights, including one this afternoon, but it is unclear at this point if FEMA will now send just two shipments or redirect a third. 

FEMA has said it has contracted with all-cargo carriers for 19 flights so far, but expects to charter more aircraft to meet the demand for medical supplies. 

More than 3,900 people have now died in the U.S. from the novel coronavirus and officials are preparing the public for the possibility the respiratory disease could kill 100,000 to 240,000 people. Governors and mayors have criticized the administration and FEMA for a purchasing and distribution system that leaves them competing with each other and the federal government for scarce equipment and supplies instead of a coordinated national program.

Project Airbridge is a joint effort between FEMA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to connect private sector suppliers with health-care providers involved in testing and patient care related to COVID-19. The agencies have created a Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force that is sourcing personal protective equipment, ventilators and other critical resources to meet demand in hotspots around the country. FEMA is focusing allocation to areas experiencing the greatest increase in COVID-19 cases with the largest forecast capacity shortfalls. The rest will be put into the regular supply chain, with priority given to hospitals, healthcare facilities and nursing homes. In some cases, the federal government may purchase supplies to replenish the Strategic National Stockpile or provide them directly to states with an unmet need.

More details about Project Airbridge are slowly coming out. STG Logistics, a Chicago-based provider of distribution and warehousing services, said it provided breakdown and transload services for the FEMA flights into New York and Chicago. Hundreds of pallets were taken to its local facilities before being distributed to FEMA-designated receiving stations. Radiant Global Logistics, headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, also says it helped distribute supplies in both cases. 

Rickenbacker Airport is dedicated to cargo. It is home to FedEx and UPS domestic stations and serves major freighter operators from around the world. The airport also contains a major intermodal facility and warehousing. With its central location, transloaded goods can reach nearly half the U.S. population and one-third of Canada with a truck drive of one day or less.