A real-life hero from Carlow will kiss his family farewell this morning, and fly a plane on a 30-hour round trip to Beijing for vital personal protective equipment (PPE) for Irish heathcare workers at the front line of the Covid19 battle.
The precious girls that Aer Lingus pilot, Michael Griffin, will farewell are Carlow footballer Marion Hayden and their beautiful five-month old baby, Emily.
Today, Michael’s job is essential. But he told Eimear Ní Bhraonáin on KCLR Live that only ten days ago, life was very different.
He and other pilots at Aer Lingus had suffered pay cuts and were put on part-time hours due to Covid19’s impact on the industry.
However, during that quiet time it became apparent that there was a shortage of medical equipment for health care staff in Ireland.
“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,” he said.
“Literally ten days ago it wasn’t arriving and now it’s happening – there are five flights a day.”
The first of many flights traveled successfully to China and returned on Saturday loaded with €28 million worth of PPE. They arrived home with 11 million masks, 2.3 million eye protections, 2.4 million gowns and 9 million pairs of gloves.
The HSE has arranged for €208 million worth of PPE to come from China, with the first ten flights due to complete their tasks before Wednesday, with flights continuing on a daily basis.
While there are usually up to three pilots on a flight, a total of five will travel on each flight to Beijing.
Short turn around
“With the short turn around 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.”
Born and bred in Carlow, Michael got a job with Aer Lingus about 20 years ago.
“I left Carlow and moved up to Dublin…trained in Spain. The opportunity to become a long-haul pilot came up so I moved back to Carlow Town. I was always trying to get back home. I got very lucky,” he said.
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.”
He said they will try to have a nap, although the entire plane – the cabin and cargo hold, including the seats, will be used to carry the medical equipment. “…bar a couple of seats that we will be able to use to rest will be full with medical equipment”.
He said it they estimate that it would take about six hours on the ground and another ten or so hours back to Dublin Airport.