WASHINGTON – The National Aeronautic Association (NAA), at its fall awards dinner tonight in Arlington, Va., will honor National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) member Brian Kelly. Kelly is a veteran air traffic controller from Dallas-Love Field Air Traffic Control Tower and also a pilot. He is a member of one of the 2017 recipient organizations of NAA’s Public Benefit Flying Teamwork Award, created to honor volunteer pilots, other volunteers, and their organizations engaged in flying to help others. NAA asked Kelly to speak tonight and represent the groups in accepting the team award.
Kelly is being recognized for his dedicated and vitally important volunteer work with Operation Airdrop, one of the largest grassroots general aviation disaster relief groups that delivered supplies to areas in need after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas and Louisiana. Following Harvey, the group undertook nearly 400 missions, delivering 250,000 pounds of donated supplies to various small airports around the Houston/Beaumont, Texas, area. They teamed up with the Central Texas community assistance organization Educated Angels and did 62 missions carrying over 27,000 pounds of supplies.
Kelly also coordinated for pizza to be delivered to Army National Guard soldiers at Hawthorne Field in Hardin County, Texas, and arranged for several truckloads of goods from Educated Angels to be delivered to various organizations, including the Salvation Army in Corpus Christi, Texas.
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Kelly’s group teamed up with Puerto Rico native and baseball Hall of Famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez to get supplies to the island.
“We are incredibly proud of Brian, who is very deserving of this recognition for his dedication to help so many in need after the recent hurricanes,” NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert said. “Brian exemplifies the compassion, generosity, and desire to help others that is prevalent throughout our Union and which has been on full display during the continuing hurricane relief efforts. Brian and all of our NATCA brothers and sisters who have flown relief and supply delivery missions have made our Union and our represented-professions very proud.”
Operation Airdrop began on Aug. 30 as pilot Robert Johnson and his friend Doug Jackson began to organize their and other pilots’ relief missions to Houston for Harvey victims. Johnson texted Kelly to ask about the air traffic control situation in Houston and get his advice about airspace and temporary flight restrictions. Before his FAA career, Kelly was a C130 navigator in the Air Force and spent time flying in support of the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, so Johnson knew he was aware of what was needed to help Houston. He invited Kelly on his first flight to deliver supplies from Dallas to Conroe, Texas.
“Operation Airdrop quickly grew, and Brian stepped in almost immediately to run operations,” Johnson said. “He took personal vacation time from work and cobbled together a small team of dedicated individuals to coordinate the hundreds of volunteer flights carrying cargo and personnel to the Houston area. They took over a conference room at the Denton Airport to create an ad-hoc command center.
Kelly’s team fielded requests from people on the ground in Houston and also coordinated the “catchers,” the people who would actually receive the cargo, so the pilots didn’t just unload them on the ramp. “They, of course, also managed the volunteer pilots and planes and developed an operational plan each day of where to send the planes and what cargos were needed,” Johnson said.
“The logistical infrastructure that Brian and his team put together on incredibly short notice was simply amazing,” Johnson added. “Brian didn’t see his family for several days, and his team often slept on the FBO’s (airport fixed base operators) couches.”