FORT WORTH, Texas When pilot Mick Waldrop guides his company's 737 to takeoff Tuesday at Fort Worth Alliance Airport, he will be embarking on a mission that, in many ways, is just like any other flight of his in four decades of aviation.
But in other ways, it will be like no other.
Waldrop is on a crew of six people who will deliver about 30,000 pounds of relief supplies to medical workers battling the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. The supplies include rubber gloves, goggles, masks and other medical tools.
Waldrop, who works for ATX Air Services based at Alliance Airport, admits to being a touch apprehensive about the journey but said he ultimately decided to do it because so many sick people need the help. West Africa is in the midst of the worst Ebola virus outbreak in history. Fort Worth-trained doctor Kent Brantly was gravely ill with the virus this summer, which he caught while performing missionary work in Liberia. Brantly was flown back to the U.S. for treatment and was released from the hospital last week.
"Ebola's no joke, and we know that. But this is a humanitarian effort," Waldrop said Monday from an ATX office on the south end of the airport. ATX is a subsidiary of Hillwood Development, which built the airport in far north Fort Worth.
"My wife is a registered nurse, so we had that medical discussion," he said. "I think everybody on the crew probably went through their own checklist about the risks and benefits, probably prayed about it a little bit and determined this is worthwhile."
Waldrop noted that the crew, which will wear gloves and take other protective measures while in Liberia, is still trying to identify a specific place to land and refuel on the return trip. Many neighboring countries in West Africa aren't enthusiastic about allowing a plane that has spent any time on Liberian soil even just to offload pallets to land on their turf.
The flight presents no technical problems, Waldrop said. The aircraft is equipped with extended range fuel tanks and the airport outside Monrovia, Liberia has an 11,000-foot runway.
"The actual air transit, through air space, is going to be similar to all the flights we take," he said.
All 12 employees of ATX volunteered to go on the trip, but six were chosen, general manager Scott Bohnenkamp said.
The crews will depart Alliance Airport Tuesday and fly to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, where more supplies will be loaded onto the aircraft. The plane will then fly over the Atlantic Ocean and land for refueling somewhere in West Africa, possibly Cape Verde a large island off the continent's west coast.
The plane will make another refueling stop somewhere in the West Africa vicinity on the way back to Fort Worth. In all, the trip will require 20,000 gallons of fuel.
A for-profit flight of that nature could cost in the vicinity of $500,000, including fuel, labor and landing fees and other expenses, Bohnenkamp said.
The donated supplies are worth roughly another half-million, officials said. Companies that helped with donations include AFYA Foundation, AmeriCares, ChildFund International, Direct Relief and MedShare.
The donations were arranged by Airlink, a Washington, D.C.-based disaster response organization that matches aviation companies willing to donate their services with shipments that need to be delivered.
"We're putting together pallets of rubber gloves, masks, goggles all things that were requested by the Liberian ministry of health," said Steve Smith, Airlink executive director.
At ATX, the six-person crew includes four pilots, a mechanic and a load master who will work in shifts so they can stay rested.
The plane should be back in Fort Worth no later than Aug. 30 because it is due for a routine checkup, Bohnenkamp said.
"We are very fortunate we are able to squeeze this flight in just before the plane goes in for about six weeks of maintenance," he said.
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
Planeload of Ebola supplies set to leave Texas
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