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Atlas Air takes the lead in Project Airbridge (with video)

FEMA partnership to speed up medical supply chains expands to more airports

An Atlas Air 747 freighter carried out the first mission of Project Airbridge for FEMA. (Source: FEMA)

[vimeo-autoplay video-id=”402355862″]

The second all-cargo flight chartered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expedite coronavirus relief supplies to areas of urgent need landed Monday morning at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, government and industry officials said.

Atlas Air [NASDAQ: AAWW] operated the freighter flight, said Adam Rod, assistant commissioner of planning for the Chicago Department of Aviation. FEMA and Atlas Air earlier confirmed the company, a provider of outsourced cargo and passenger air service, is participating in the government-organized airlift, dubbed Project Airbridge.

“Our main effort continues to be the acceleration of personal protective equipment. We are moving supplies from the global market to medical distributors,” a FEMA spokeswoman said in a statement. The airlift mission will continue “until we have a velocity of supplies that can utilize both air and sea transport.”

Another plane loaded with medical supplies is scheduled to land at an undisclosed airport in Ohio on Tuesday. Supplies are going to hot spots in other states through health care distributors such as Cardinal Health.

So far, 19 dedicated emergency flights have been scheduled and more are being added daily, FEMA said. President Donald Trump on Sunday indicated that the effort would involve 50 flights, but it is likely the figure will change.

The first Project Airbridge flight arrived Sunday at New York’s JFK Airport on an Atlas B747 freighter from Shanghai, with N95 respirators, masks, gowns, 30 million gloves and thousands of thermometers.

FEMA and the White House have not provided names of other participating airlines, but UPS [NYSE: UPS] is known to be involved because one of its officials spoke Sunday about the emergency effort during an event at the White House.

The FEMA spokeswoman said the agency is working with manufacturers from Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, India, Honduras and Mexico to procure the needed supplies and get them on the emergency flights.

Atlas Air is involved in several upcoming charters to multiple U.S. destinations in support of Project Airbridge, said Debbie Coffey, Atlas Air’s chief communications officer, in an email to FreightWaves.

“We are grateful to our 3,800 crewmembers and ground staff for their ongoing dedication to make these flights happen and we hope these critical supplies will help bring relief to those working on the frontlines,” she said.

Atlas Air and affiliate Polar Air Cargo are also actively involved in transporting relief goods to the U.S., as well as other nations. The company is working with governments as well as with express carriers, forwarders and charter brokers, and other partners to arrange the shipments.

FedEx [NYSE: FDX] is believed to be involved in Project Airbridge as well but would only say in a statement it “is working with the Department of Health and Human Services and FEMA to provide logistics and transportation support for COVID-19 relief efforts.” Last week, FedEx and UPS began expediting shipment of test specimens to laboratories around the country.


  1. K. Wade

    I cannot find a single mention of this story in any of the MSM networks. Not CNN, MSNBC, ABC, Fox, CBS, NBC, or PBS….NONE of them mention it. Why is that?

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, Eric was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. He has appeared on Marketplace, ABC News and National Public Radio to talk about logistics issues in the news. Eric is based in Vancouver, Washington. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]