Kalitta Air Converting Cargo Planes to Evacuate U.S. State Personnel From Wuhan
One of the world’s largest air cargo companies is in rapid retrofit mode, converting a number of their 747 and 767 air freight planes to passenger airliners to fulfill a U.S. State Department contract to evacuate American personnel from Wuhan, China.
Kalitta Air is a worldwide air shipping company that primarily serves the Asian and Eurasian regions, often out competing the likes of FedEx and UPS. Sources inside the company say they’ve received orders to add full passenger cabins to as many as half a dozen 747 and 767 planes for a heavy evacuation contract to extract American diplomats, business people and other American personnel from Hubei province in China, where as many as 300,000 people are infected with novel Coronavirus.
The first such flight landed yesterday at an airbase in Alaska. Several more flights are set to follow.
The emergency retrofit operation raises obvious questions about conventional air carriers’ vulnerabilities to biohazard contaminants and the logistical challenges of adequate hygiene, maintenance and viral decontamination realities of passenger airliners.
“The obvious implication is that this virus is so transmissible and highly infectious that there are real concerns that air carriers simply don’t have the ability to scrub a plane down and keep from infecting new victims in the process of an evacuation,” said someone close to the situation.
“By converting cargo planes off-site, Kalitta Air is circumventing those very real concerns about the limits of disinfecting contaminated planes, in effect creating brand new passenger planes to carry the Wuhan evacuees out of harms way.”
Travel bans and a Chinese lockdown on flights in and out of Wuhan has made it impossible for stranded American travelers to escape the infection zone, forcing many to simply shelter in place hoping conditions will improve. One such American Wuhan refugee, communicating via social media recounted watching the owner of his Wuhan hotel die from the coronavirus and the entire staff abandon the facility, leaving him and dozens of other travelers to fend for themselves inside a mostly abandoned building with no services or accommodations like food, clean towels or anything else. The man also complained after visiting the American embassy in Wuhan, only to find that most of the American contingent had already been evacuated.
Taken on the whole, the drastic precautions taken both by the Chinese government and by the U.S. State Department hint at a severity and scope of a pandemic that transcends the deliberately low official statistics being circulated about the disease. Earlier this week, a Chinese health ministry employee broke ranks with official statistics, revealing projections of 300,000 to 1-million infections in China so far, making coronavirus a much faster spreading and more serious outbreak than previous scenarios.
“With SARS or with yearly flu outbreaks in China, we haven’t seen entire cities placed on lockdown and the quarantining of nearly 100-million people. We never saw the conversion of cargo planes into passenger planes to bypass conventional aircraft contaminated with germs,” the source said.
“All of that should tell the average person that this is a different virus than what we’ve seen before. It may or may not be a doomsday plague, but it isn’t SARS or H1N1, either. That’s obvious.”