The Airlift Emergency Response Operations (AERO) leverage general aviation assets to respond to natural disasters, emergencies and general emergency preparedness activities. Our pilots, ground crew, remote volunteers, and partners work closely to provide airlift, evacuation, transportation, and other supports during emergencies. We deeply value our community-directed response, innovative outlook and community of concerned individuals, organizations, authorities and corporations to build the capacity for a multifarious, multi-disciplinary emergency response. Our mission is to build a national network of AERO hubs that can leverage national assets and people power to effectively support communities during emergency situations.
Tell us about yourself?
I am a final-year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, majoring in Neuroscience and Physiology. I have worked with various research labs focusing on topics including cardiovascular surgery, ophthalmology, microbiology, etc. I’ve worked for the Taku River Tlingit First Nation and others as a contractor for anthropological research. I have also worked with the BC Centre for Disease Control, leading a team of contact tracers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, I work mainly in the startup space with a company using AR/VR software and technology to conduct better behavioural analytics. I enjoy reading, writing, and intriguing conversations!
If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
I would say go for it! Whether it be reaching out to someone for mentorship or advice, proposing an idea, or speaking up at a meeting, we tend not to do these things for fear of coming across as unworthy or foolish. I would tell myself to be confident, speak up, and act on ideas.
What problem does your business solve?
Communities are often left to fend for themselves during emergencies. Communities, individuals, and corporations who want to support others are left without direction, and those resources and expertise are left untapped. AERO provides ‘first on site’ response with initial support as required. While other organizations, including government operations, can take precious time to overcome bureaucracy and the unavailability of resources, we boast in-house air and ground transport, specialized response teams, and stockpiled/acquired supplies available to move at a moment’s notice.
What is the inspiration behind your business?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, I worked as a team lead at the BC Center for Disease Control with the Covid-19 Rapid Response Team. My team worked closely with health authorities supporting contact tracing and vaccination efforts in BC’s interior region. In November 2021, devastating floods hit communities in the interior and the same communities I had worked with to manage Covid-19 were now facing an existential threat. At the Center for Disease Control, we organized a small donation drive to raise food and other donations for those communities. Through this process, we got in touch with the West Coast Pilots Club at Langley Regional Airport who were already facilitating an airlift of magnanimous proportion to get supplies to people cut off from the rest of the world. Together, we worked to relieve communities in dire need of resupply and since then have worked to set up a formal organization that can leverage general aviation and other civilian assets to effectively support community response during emergencies.
What is your magic sauce?
AERO provides a new meaning to first on-site, extra-bureaucratic emergency response. Our aviation assets allow us to provide physical site presence within hours of being activated, our multidisciplinary teams allow us to respond to a variety of needs, and our focus on innovation pushes us to find new and better ways to carry out our missions by refining the best practice and adopting new tech, and our community-directed procedure tailors it to the specific needs of a community during an emergency. Civilian aviation emergency response in Canada has historically existed as sporadic, ad hoc efforts by individuals in the face of adversity. We are the first of our kind to formalize a general aviation-based emergency response organization, and that too with a multi-disciplinary support team of medical professionals, emergency managers, academic professionals, public health workers, veterinary professionals, etc. We have deep pride in our innovative outlook. We maintain relationships with academic institutions and industry with whom we are developing next-generation training programs for volunteers, incorporating future technology, participating in ongoing research and building a robust network of response organizations to expand our capabilities.
What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?
The plan for the next 5 years is to build a robust national network of responders and support organizations so we can leverage a vast amount of resources towards local, regional and larger-scale emergencies. To get to this point, we have some specific long-term goals for the next 5 years:
- National Presence: Our goal in 5 years is to have some presence in every province and territory across the country. By establishing contacts and hubs across the country, we will gain access to resources available to leverage when emergencies occur. We are in the process of testing out our expansion model in Ontario, and with an established protocol, we will be able to expand rapidly over the next 5 years.
- Evolving Academic and Industry Partnerships: We want to be at the forefront of aviation and emergency response technology. We already have relationships with York University, Simon Fraser University, Drones Express Canada and others who are facilitating our presence at industry-leading laboratories, programs and conversations.
- Be the Nation’s Leading First On Scene Organization: When assistance is required, we want to be the first on contact lists in our service areas to respond. We hope to get there by developing a deep trust with communities and have an institutionalized “we will get it done” attitude.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
The biggest challenge we have faced so far is understanding and enacting sustainable growth. After the floods of November 2021, we got numerous volunteer applications, requests from communities for partnerships, etc. Within a month of standing up, we realized we had grown to over 50 response pilots, a few dozen ground volunteers and dealing with multiple conversations with organizations looking for collaborations. It was a difficult understanding that we needed to pause, build a strong leadership team, build a framework for our activities and then onboard committed volunteers to support the effort. We have since changed our approach to building a robust structure with leadership and then bringing on a team of volunteers. Having said that, we continue to pride ourselves on our lightning-fast growth across BC and starting up an Ontario branch by the end of this year.
How can people get involved?
We are always looking for volunteers to help the cause! You do not need to have an emergency response or aviation background to help out – all of our volunteers bring unique expertise in their own fields that we can weave into the response capabilities of AERO. If you would like to be a part of the mission, visit us at www.bcaero.org/get-involved or send us an email at [email protected]. If you have any questions for me, I am reachable at [email protected] and always happy to chat!