Companies with In-house Aviation Departments Have a Secret Weapon!
The aviation industry became critically immobilized in early 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Companies that maintain their own flight departments were hit hard during the shutdown and quickly began to experience heavy financial losses. Pfizer executives and their flight department team sought solutions, and they have demonstrated the critical role flight departments can play in the midst of adversity.
Pfizer’s vice president of corporate aviation John Witzig recognized that maintaining pilot proficiency and currency was not enough, that the currency flights were “just burning holes” in the sky without demonstrating a financial benefit to the company. Witzig knew that Pfizer had to be proactive in order to get up and running, and he took measures in hand as the company was conducting trials for its COVID-19 vaccine.
Witzig considered Pfizer’s charitable contributions and its position as a longtime supporter of the charitable organization Corporate Angel Network (CAN), which schedules and provides transportation for cancer patients. Witzig asked his CEO whether Pfizer’s flight department could provide services for some of those missions. Company executives approved Witzig’s request, and over the next few months, a couple of dozen trips were made. Rather than waiting for requests from CAN, his department went directly to CAN asking for trips.
Pfizer’s secret weapon, the flight department, developed a hazmat team and worked with health and safety experts and its own logistics teams to explore the role it could play in carrying out its mission and carrying equipment and vaccines.
“It was a lot more complicated than we thought,” Witzig conceded, but the flight department at Pfizer was able to work through nationwide restrictions and reduced airline flights to conduct “dozens and dozens” of trips carrying small loads of trial product and lab technicians while testing was ongoing. And those trips have continued. Witzig stresses that he believes the flight department played a small, yet valuable role in the effort to make vaccines available. “We were credited specifically with reducing our time to submission for the emergency-use authorization by at least two weeks.”