AN IRISH Aer Lingus pilot has offered up a first-hand account of the incredible efforts being made to fly vital personal protective equipment (PPE) over from China to use in Ireland’s battle with coronavirus.
Ireland’s Health And Safety Executive has spent a reported €208 million on much-needed hospital supplies sourced from China.
The first of 10 planned flights touched down in Dublin this past Sunday, following an exhausting 30-hour round trip which, upon arrival in China, pilots were forbidden from disembarking off.
That first plane brought with it an estimated 11 million protective masks, 2.3 million eye protectors, 2.4 million gowns and nine million gloves – and there is plenty more to come.
According to HSE’s Chief Operations Officer, Anne O'Connor the trips WILL ensure staff at hospitals all over Ireland have access to enough PPE supplies to deal with the onslaught of Covid-19 cases expected in the coming weeks and months.
None of which would be possible without the efforts of pilots like Michael Griffin.
The 41-year-old Co Carlow man told KCLR how he was one of several Aer Lingus pilots to be put on part-time hours following the emergence of Covid-19.
It was during this time, however, that a shortage of medical equipment in Ireland was first identified.
Eager to provide as much protection to healthcare staff as possible, the government enlisted the help of Aer Lingus.
“The union got onto the company and the HSE and they offered the pilots to help. Within a week we developed a plan to get aircraft from Dublin to Beijing,” Michael told KCLR.
“Literally ten days ago it wasn’t arriving and now it’s happening – there are five flights a day.”
While flights of this kind usually have three pilots onboard, these Aer Lingus pick-ups will see a total of five travel to the Far East – and with good reason.
“With the short turnaround time we are going to have in Beijing, we’re not going to be getting off the aircraft so we will have two pilots fly out and two fly back, with one to help facilitate rest on board,” Michael explained.
It’s standard practice for pilots to disembark and enjoy somewhere between 24 and 48 hours of rest.
However, with China in lockdown, any pilot getting off the plane would be required to spend a mandatory two weeks in quarantine.
Usually, pilots have 24 or 48 hours of rest before returning but tomorrow, the pilots won’t be allowed to get off the aircraft.
“We literally land, it’s a nine-and-a-half-hour flight over, it will take four to six hours to load the cargo over there so we will wait in the aircraft,” Michael revealed.
While they rest, the entire plane is loaded with the essential PPE equipment with every inch of cabin and cargo hold space used up – including the seats.
After six hours on the ground, the plane takes off on a ten-hour trip back to Dublin.
It’s an incredible effort all round and one that is playing a major role in helping those on the frontline do their jobs.
A happily married Carlow man with a five-month-old daughter, one day Michael will be able to tell her about the incredible role he played in fighting coronavirus.
She will be very proud of her dad, as we all are now.