London, Wednesday, March 31, 1999: British Airways is joining with The Express newspaper in taking the lead in helping rush relief supplies to the victims of the Kosovo disaster.
It is making an aircraft available to fly out emergency aid to the region, working with leading charities like the Red Cross, UNICEF and UNHCR. The Express newspaper is launching a readers’ appeal for items needed by the evacuees, to be carried out on the flight.
A Boeing 757 is on standby at the airline’s Heathrow base. It will fly direct to the emergency area, probably Thessaloniki, in Northern Greece, which is outside the air exclusion zone yet just 220 kms from FYR Macedonia.
The flight will be crewed by volunteers, with Mike Street, Director of Customer Service and Operations, leading the overall effort.
A 757 has been selected, rather than larger 747s or 777s, because this aircraft type is more likely to be able to land and take-off at airports in the region, and because it is simpler to unload at “unfamiliar” airports.
The airline’s 757s typically carry 5.2 tonnes of cargo and up to 195 passengers. On the relief flight, additional cargo would be carried in the passenger cabin.
The airline is today locating a suitable building to be used as a reception point for the aid, with a Heathrow hangar the likely location.
Aid supplies are likely to include tents and waterproof sheeting for making shelters, clothing and shoes, blankets, eating utensils, nappies, high protein foods and basic medicines.
British Airways is a corporate patron of the Red Cross, and works closely with UNICEF, raising millions of pounds from passengers and staff who donate their unwanted foreign coins to the charity in-flight. UNICEF today said it is diverting £92,000 from this “Change for Good” fund to provide aid to the Kosovo victims.
Mike Street said: “We should do whatever we can to help all those poor children, women and men in Kosovo who have lost everything in this catastrophe.”
Express Editor Rosie Boycott said: “This is a wonderful gesture by British Airways. What is happening in Kosovo is a horrible human disaster, the worst in Europe since World War 2.”