When pilot Mick Waldrop guides his company’s 737 to takeoff today at Fort Worth Alliance Airport, he will be embarking on a mission that, in many ways, is just like any other flight in his four decades of aviation.
But in other ways, it will be like no other.
Waldrop is on a crew of six 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 doing missionary work in Liberia. Brantly was flown back to the U.S. for treatment and was released from a hospital last week.
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“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 said 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 welcoming a plane that has spent any time on Liberian soil — even just to offload pallets.
The flight presents no technical problems, Waldrop said. The aircraft has extended-range fuel tanks, and the airport outside Monrovia, Liberia, has an 11,000-foot runway.
“The actual air transit, through airspace, 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 crew will depart from Alliance Airport today and fly to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, where more supplies will be loaded. 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 in or near West Africa 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, 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,” Airlink Executive Director Steve Smith said.
At ATX, the six-person crew has 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.