The Operation of Airports to Manage Humanitarian Aid: A Constant Challenge for the Peruvian Armed Forces

This article is part of the book Ambiente Estratégico 2022: Seguridad, Desarrollo y Defensa Nacional.


This article analyzes the need to convert an airport into a logistics center for the management of humanitarian aid in the event of a large-scale earthquake, since -generally- its installed capacity is exceeded. Given this, the Operational Commands of the Joint Command of the Peruvian Armed Forces must be prepared to quickly overcome the critical moments after the earthquake and ensure the operation of the airport closest to the disaster zone in order to turn it into an efficient logistics center for the management of humanitarian aid. In view of the preparation phase of the Law of the National Disaster Risk Management System of Peru, it is essential that the Operational Commands organize the available resources and include entities or companies that can support the management of the airport, in order to increase the logistical capacity for the handling of large volumes of humanitarian aid.

Keywords: Airport, Earthquake, Humanitarian Aid, Logistics Capacity, Armed Forces.


On August 15, 2007, in the city of Pisco, an earthquake of seven degrees on the Richter scale occurred.[1] After this event, Air Group No. 51, which was housed at the Pisco Air Base and adjacent to the airport, activated its emergency plans (such as evacuation of personnel, aircraft and tsunami prevention) and, subsequently, conducted rescue actions, publicizing the impact of the earthquake through the report of the first figures of deaths, victims and collapsed structures.

Having evaluated the condition of the airport and found that only the runway was available, since the auxiliary runway was cracked and had also been partially flooded by the tsunami, Air Group No. 51 established communication with the Commandos in Lima and requested the first aircraft to evacuate wounded. That aircraft managed to land eight hours after the earthquake and was the first of all those that began to arrive carrying humanitarian aid and personnel (rescue, doctors, military and authorities, among others). However, the management of these aircraft proved problematic and even ineffective, because the commercial airport of Pisco did not have a ramp for aircraft and equipment for unloading, nor portable ladders for disembarking passengers.

Faced with this situation, the facilities and limited means of support of the Pisco Air Base were used, which assumed control of all logistics operations, trying to organize the military personnel and the available means that would allow cargo aircraft to be attended, having to unload them by force of personnel (often in a row and arm in arm; other times, a group force to unload heavier packages or various equipment). This type of operation caused significant delays due to the excessive permanence of aircraft on the flight ramp that prevented the arrival of others, causing an inefficient management of humanitarian aid and consequent delay in assistance to the affected population.

The experience described showed that, in the face of a major earthquake, the airport closest to the affected areas must be transformed into a humanitarian aid unloading center, as it is the fastest way to assist the affected population. Consequently, it is essential that the Armed Forces (FF. AA.) develop standardized procedures to quickly operationalize the airport closest to an affected area, with an agile and efficient organization to manage humanitarian aid. In this regard, this article proposes mechanisms to preventively organize the available human and material resources, as part of the preparation phase of the Disaster Risk Management Law.

Experiences on the Management of Humanitarian Aid in an Airport

Undoubtedly, a major earthquake affects land roads, homes, and essential services required by the population. Different institutions of the State, the international community, private companies (national and international), as well as non-governmental organizations send humanitarian aid without adequate prioritization and, generally, without palletizing.[2] All this volume of humanitarian aid exceeds the capacity of an airport, such as what happened in the Pisco earthquake of 2007, where the cargo handling capacity of the local airport and the Air Base was exceeded, causing the delay in the attention of the affected population.

In this regard, the National Institute of Civil Defense, in its Lessons Learned from the South, points out that the earthquake caused damage to infrastructure with interruption of land routes,[3] which forced the use of air means to move humanitarian aid.[4] To this end, an air bridge was established between Lima and the Pisco Air Base, with day and night flights of aircraft and helicopters of the FF. AA., the National Police of Peru (PNP), private companies and air forces of other countries. In this context, the Pisco Air Base became the Advanced Emergency Operations Center,[5] facing serious problems in the unloading process due to not having adequate equipment (forklifts). Likewise, the cargo arrived in bulk and in disorder (without adequate prioritization), having to carry out the unloading with the little personnel available. This situation caused the flight ramp to remain full of aircraft, limiting the arrival of more aid, despite having the support of international logistics operators such as the DHL company,[6] which deployed personnel and cargo handling equipment to organize the chain of humanitarian aid goods.[7]

Indeed, the Pisco Air Base, run by the Peruvian Air Force (FAP), attended 535 flights and 1,026 tons of humanitarian aid in 30 days,[8] showing deficiencies and leaving lessons learned such as those reported by the FAP (regarding the need to have larger capacity warehouses, support equipment for cargo handling and increased personnel for security and operation of the base)[9] and DHL (in terms of lack of preparedness for response and shortage of personnel trained in emergency operations, which made cargo and storage difficult).[10] Therefore, experience shows that – in the face of an earthquake of great magnitude – an airport must become a logistics center for the management of humanitarian aid, since – from the first day after the seismic event – a greater number of flights will be received, exceeding ramp capacity, affecting unloading processes and requiring greater storage capacity. Undoubtedly, the formulation of preventive plans is required to face this type of contingency.

Responsibility of Operational Commands

With regard to the participation of the Armed Forces. AA. in a crisis situation, it is key to maintain the principle of unity of command to enhance the capabilities of the available means of each armed institution and coordinate efforts between components, according to the scope of their competence. In this sense, the Pisco earthquake occurred, the importance of the participation of the Armed Forces to establish air bridges, through their human and material resources, allowing the evacuation of wounded and the transfer of humanitarian aid, was evident.[11] However, the participation of the Center’s Operational Command was essential to act in a coordinated manner,[12] leading the participation of the Armed Forces and articulating efforts to operate the Emergency Operations Center.

At this point, it is necessary to take into account that the Law of the National System of Disaster Risk Management (SINAGERD), in its preparation phase,[13] stipulates that the Armed Forces, regional governments and local governments must organize the available resources according to the study of risks in the areas of influence, and must formulate plans to face a disaster.[14] Consequently, the formation of an organization in each Operational Command is key, capable of leading the execution of contingency plans (regional and local) and articulating the capacities of both its components, public entities and private companies. It should be noted that workshops, planning or meetings will not require additional financial budgets; only, the use of the available infrastructure.

International Humanitarian Aid Systems

Additionally, it should be borne in mind that there are international companies that facilitate the management of humanitarian aid in the event of a large-scale earthquake, supporting the affected country. One of them is DHL, which within its organization has two types of response to support logistics operations: the Disaster Response Team (DRT)[15] and the Get Airport Ready for Disaster Program (GARD).[16] On the one hand, the DRT is made up of DHL volunteer employees, who have been prepared and trained to execute logistics operations at an airport. In the event of a disaster, DRT members are deployed along with various equipment (forklifts, laptops, wooden pallets, etc.) to manage high volumes of humanitarian aid cargo, as has happened in the earthquakes in Pisco (2007),[17] Nepal (2015),[18] Ecuador (2016),[19] and Haiti (2016),[20] among others.

On the other hand, since 2009, the GARD, together with the United Nations Development Program, has carried out training programs in different airports to prepare personnel and infrastructure to face a disaster, seeking to establish a response plan for each airport,[21] such as the one carried out for the airports of Lima and Pisco.[22] in March 2014. This plan details the support material of public and private entities near the airport (forklifts, cranes, carts, vans, pallets, tents, etc.), with data from the contributing entities, responsible persons, equipment and materials. Therefore, training, preparation and implementation of plans are key, as they allow to increase the logistical cargo handling capacity of an airport to optimally manage humanitarian aid in the event of a disaster.

In addition, the System of Cooperation between the American Air Forces (SICOFAA) is another important instrument to deal with logistical air operations at an airport.[23] Immediately after a major earthquake, SICOFAA makes available to the affected country air resources, pilots and equipment to increase air capacity in the disaster area. Based on experience, every affected country requires more air resources, with crews to operate them, to fill the deficit for special air operations (such as evacuations, air operations in high altitude fields, etc.) and to speed up the process of humanitarian aid.

Likewise, it should be taken into account that these air assets require parking areas, support equipment, refueling, crew accommodation, so SICOFAA has a system to maintain immediate communication, called the Computer and Telecommunications System of the American Air Force (SITFAA).[24] as well as two computer programs, one that streamlines the operational process, called the Integrated Command and Control System (ICC),[25] and another for the logistics process, called the Unified Air Logistics Module (MULA). In 2014, SICOFAA conducted training at the airports of Lima and Pisco,[26] with the participation of 13 air forces, and assisted the response in the emergencies of Ecuador (2016) and the phenomenon of the Coastal Child of Peru (2017). Therefore, it is essential to carry out training with SICOFAA, in coordination with the Air Components of the Operational Commands.


Experience has shown that – in the face of a major earthquake – an airport must quickly become an air logistics hub to handle a large number of aircraft and cargo of humanitarian aid. Therefore, the Armed Forces must conduct training and establish plans with standardized procedures to operate the airport closest to an area affected by a disaster. To this end, the commanders of the Operational Commands must arrange for their respective Air Components to organize “workshops to operationalize the airports. “This workshop should be led by the head of the military unit closest to the airport, since he is the one who will establish the initial contact if a large earthquake occurs. For example, the Air Wing No. 3 would be in charge of the workshop at the Arequipa airport, the 5th Mountain Brigade at the Cuzco airport, the Captaincy of Ilo at the Ilo airport, and so on. It should be noted that this type of workshops does not generate additional expenses, since it uses the available infrastructure.

Additionally, the workshop must be organized jointly with the airport authorities, coordinating the participation of all state and private entities that can contribute material or personnel to increase the airport’s capacity in the event of a disaster. Likewise, the workshop must: (1) Publicize the legal and guiding principles of SINAGERD; (2) Demonstrate the need to organize beforehand to operationalize the airport, including previous experiences and lessons learned; (3) Publicize support tools such as SICOFAA and DHL’s GARD and DRT programs; (4) Analyze the particularities, needs and requirements of the airport; and (5) Facilitate the formulation of a plan to operationalize the airport, detailing the personnel and the means that each entity will contribute. Finally, the Joint Command of the FF. AA. should be involved in the execution of exercises at airports that present the most significant logistical and operational deficiencies.


  1. Hernando Tavera, Isabel Bernal and Henry Salas, “El sismo de Pisco del 15 de agosto, 2007 (7.9Mw) Department of Ica – Peru” Geophysical Institute of Peru,, (Lima: August 2007), 6, (accessed July 2, 2022).
  2. Pallets or pallets are rigid platforms or structures (often made of wood) that are used to group goods. Palletized goods are one of the most efficient methods of cargo grouping, becoming a “charging unit” much easier to move and handle, as well as needing less personnel for loading and unloading, since they can be done by mechanical means (forklifts, cranes, etc.), also reducing the time spent for these jobs. See: J & J, “Transporte paletizado,” J&J Transportes y Soluciones Integrales S.A.C (2022) (accessed September 23, 2022).
  3. Indeci, “Lecciones aprendidas del sur: Sismo de Pisco, 15 agosto 2007”, National Institute of Civil Defense (Lima: 2009) (accessed August 21, 2022).
  4. Ibid., 39.
  5. Ibid., 44.
  6. DHL (acronym of the founders of the company -Dalsey, Hillbloom and Lynn- in San Francisco USA in 1969) German international logistics company, offers courier service, package delivery and express mail, (DHL: 2022),, (accessed August 20, 2022).
  7. Indeci, “Lecciones aprendidas del sur: Sismo de Pisco, 15 agosto 2007”, 44.
  8. Ibid., 57.
  9. Ibid., 104.
  10. Ibid., 126.
  11. Ibid., 55.
  12. Ibid., 87.
  13. Sinagerd, “Ley n.º 29664, Sistema Nacional de Gestión del Riesgo de Desastres”, 6.
  14. Ibid., 5.
  15. DRT, Disaster Response Team.
  16. GARD Get Airport Ready for Disaster.
  17. Indeci, “Lecciones aprendidas del sur”: Pisco earthquake, 15 agosto 2007”, 125.
  18. CdS news, “El equipo de respuesta ante desastres de DHL permanecerá en Nepal hasta finales de mayo”, Supply chain (May 20, 2015),, (accessed August 20, 2022).
  19. Co-responsible, “DHL apoya a víctimas de terremoto en Ecuador,” Co-responsible (April 21, 2016),, (accessed August 20, 2022).
  20. Portal Automotriz, “Deutsche Post DHL envía un equipo de respuesta ante catástrofes a Haití”, Porta Automotriz Com (October 8, 2016),, (accessed August 20, 2022).
  21. DHL Press Release, “El programa de preparación de aeropuertos ante desastres desarrollado por DHL y Naciones Unidas cumple 10 años”, DHL (Madrid: February 19, 2019),, (accessed August 20, 2022).
  22. Miguel Ampudia, “DHL prepara aeropuertos en Perú para emergencias,” ProActivo, (March 20, 2014),, (accessed August 20, 2022).
  23. SICOFAA, Cooperation System Between the American Air Forces is a Cooperation System created by the Commanders of 14 American Air Forces on April 16, 1961, during the I Conference of Chiefs of the American Air Forces (I CONJEFAMER), whose mission is ” promote the exchange of experiences, knowledge and training that allows the strengthening of the capacities of the Air Forces and their equivalents, in order to provide support to the requirements of its members”,, (accessed September 1, 2022).
  24. The SITFAA It is a communication network whose mission is to establish and maintain the means of communication and information technology, in a timely and reliable manner, between the member countries of SICOFAA and their activities; and whose objective is to strengthen SICOFAA through the current means of communication, in order to facilitate cooperation between the American and equivalent air forces, Version 7 (November 2019),, (accessed September 1, 2022).
  25. ICC Integrated Command and Control.
  26. Infodefensa, “Trece Fuerzas Aéreas simulan en Perú la respuesta ante un desastre,” Infodefensa (April 21, 2014),, (accessed September 1, 2022).


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The ideas contained in this analysis are the sole responsibility of the author, without necessarily reflecting the thoughts of the CEEEP or the Peruvian Army.

Image: CEEEP