I’m a Humanitarian Air Transport Officer – Here Is What I Do and Why

As Chief Air Transport Officer, Pascal Vuillet leads operations for the WFP-managed UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) in Ethiopia. UNHAS provides passenger air services for the humanitarian community, enabling them to reach and carry out life-saving work with isolated populations in some of the world's most remote and challenging locations that are not served by commercial airlines. He took the time recently to speak with us about his job, the highlight of his time working for WFP, and what it takes to head operations in Ethiopia every day. This is what he had to say.
 

I manage UNHAS, WFP’s humanitarian air service, in Ethiopia
which currently hosts the highest number of refugees in Africa. We provide air transport services in the country, enabling aid workers to reach people in need, who would be otherwise difficult to reach by land due to vast distances, limited infrastructure and insecurity. Between January and August 2015, we transported 3,820 humanitarian workers and moved 33 metric tons of cargo on behalf of 35 humanitarian organizations. We also support food deliveries through airlifts and airdrops from western Ethiopia into remote areas of South Sudan.

The thing that it would be most helpful for others to understand about my job is…
that you really need to be an aviation specialist, because it's a risky job and WFP must ensure that everything goes well. Most people just think UNHAS is a bus on wings. But you can't just dispatch an aircraft. You need to put all the measures in place to mitigate the risks so you provide safe air transport. You also need to make the decision to cancel flights if you don't feel the safety of the aircraft, the crew and the passengers can be assured.

My role includes…
a lot of managerial work. Attending meetings, talking to donors, fundraising, writing reports, managing the UNHAS team and the budget, getting the proper fleet to provide the service that our users need.  

The most rewarding part of my job is…
organizing medical evacuations of humanitarian workers and women with complicated pregnancies, so they can deliver safely in hospital. In Ethiopia, we conduct about 100 medivacs every year. It's basically about saving lives. Without our service, without our aircraft, these people would be in very bad shape, or worse.

A highlight of my time at WFP was…
during the Christmas of 2006, when we were conducting airdrops and transporting food by helicopter to flood-affected people in Kenya and Somalia. We landed near Malindi (in southeastern Kenya). Seeing the smile on the face of a little boy as we offloaded the food there – it was like being Father Christmas. I'll remember that for the rest of my life.

The one essential attribute you need for this job is…
to never be stressed. You need to remain calm in any situation, to analyze it properly and to provide the Country Director with all the details to make the right decision. You're only allowed to be stressed at the end of the work day, but never at work.  

The advice I'd give someone interested in this type of work is…
understand the dynamics of the operation and what every position entails first, so you have the big picture. People want to start at the top on day one, but there are so many things to learn and to understand before becoming Chief Air Transport Officer.