A successful gamble for the European Humanitarian Airlift

The partners of the European Humanitarian Airlift Bridge look back on their experience with the graphics below and the following article.

RLH-HAB (Réseau Logistique Humanitaire – Humanitarian Air Bridge)

When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the Covid-19 virus triggered the greatest concern of international humanitarian organizations. The measures taken at the global level to contain the spread of the virus, including border closures and the halt of airline operations, were going to have major consequences on ongoing humanitarian operations, and potentially create new crises (due to the restricted mobility of humanitarian personnel and the impossibility of supplying operations).

Faced with this situation, and while waiting for the World Food Programme (WFP) to set up a larger air bridge, NGOs got organised.

In April, the Informal Network of Operations Directors (INOD) began to identify the immediate needs for staff movements and the Humanitarian Logistics Network (HLN/RLH)[1] focused on the flow of supplies to ongoing humanitarian operations. These two groups rapidly coordinated with each other and with their members to jointly seek transport solutions. The Crisis and Support Centre of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with whom INOD and HLN have been coordinating since the beginning of the crisis, established the link with the European Commission and its Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO). On 20 April 2020, the European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, announces the implementation of a humanitarian air bridge, financed by the European Union.

The objective of the operation is as follows: the coordination of the European Humanitarian Air Bridge (HAB) enables a rapid response to the transport needs of passengers and equipment of European humanitarian actors, on a complementary basis with existing transport offers, during the Covid-19 crisis, in conjunction with the Member States and the European Commission. In concrete terms, it involves collecting and consolidating the passenger and equipment transport needs of European humanitarian organisations, identifying routes not covered, listing transport capacities, planning flights and ensuring overall coordination (Partners – ECHO – Member States – Broker – Airlines – Handlers).

The first flight took place on 8 May 2020, from Lyon to Bangui. It carried 73 passengers and more than 8 tons of material, supporting 23 organisations. Following this flight, the need to structure the coordination of the flights appears in a blatant manner. To meet this unprecedented challenge, a team of 10 people seconded from 5 NGOs (Solidarités International, Action Contre la Faim, the French Red Cross, HI-Atlas Logistique and the Norwegian Refugee Council) was set up.

Five months later, 42 flights to 12 different countries were coordinated by the RLH inter-NGO coordination cell. These flights carried 1,208 passengers and more than 780 tons of equipment, benefiting more than a hundred organisations.

Throughout the operation, the coordination team was particularly vigilant in serving and supporting each of these 108 organisations, especially the smaller ones.

A satisfaction survey carried out among the organisations benefiting from the flights demonstrated the relevance of such an operation, and its success, since 100% of the partners stated that they would reuse this mechanism. One partner applauds “a concrete application of the mutualised approach working for the benefit of the NGO community”, another stresses that “flights are requested according to needs, there is a focus on real emergencies in the field by the NGOs” and a last one welcomes the “creation of a collective”. There has been “a real understanding of the exceptional nature of these flights”, says one interviewee, and many partners are satisfied with the added value of some of the EU HAB operations, complementing the offer proposed by the WFP.

With the resumption of commercial air traffic at the end of the summer, the coordination cell is being readapted to the needs: the team is being reduced but a watch capacity is being maintained, as well as an operational capacity to be able to react quickly if required for punctual flights, and this until the end of 2020, thanks in particular to the support of the CDCS. Maintaining the cell has made it possible to organise three flights in response to the explosion in Beirut in August, as well as two flights to Yerevan in response to the Armenian crisis more recently.

The success of this operation demonstrated the ability of NGOs to organise themselves and show synergy in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. And, more broadly, that collaboration between NGOs is the best lever for a reactive response adapted to humanitarian issues.

What RLH has been supporting since its creation in 2014, namely that collaboration between humanitarian logistics actors and the pooling of resources makes it possible to improve operational efficiency and achieve objectives which are beyond reach on their own, is best illustrated by the creation of this humanitarian airlift, highlighting that cooperation between NGOs is more necessary than ever for humanitarian action.


[1] The Humanitarian Logistics Network was created in 2014 and has now 9 members: ACTED, Action Contre la Faim France, Croix-Rouge Française, Humanité & Inclusion, Médecins du Monde, Oxfam Intermón, Plan International, Première Urgence Internationale, Solidarités International.

The infographics in PDF foramt – EUHAB reporting – SOL

The photo album of the humanitarian airlift is here!

The press review on the humanitarian airlift:


























On Défis Humanitaires:

A humanitarian airlift to fight Coronavirus.

Interview of Marie Houel, inter-NGO coordinator for the humanitarian airlift.

Covid-19: the planes of the riposte.