Local pilot helping to fly in PPE supplies from China
A pilot from Westmeath is one of the Aer Lingus staff who have been taking part in marathon 28-hour round trips to China to collect supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for use in Ireland.
Rosemount native Paul Deegan has worked on four of the round trips to Beijing since the end of March, and more trips are planned in the weeks ahead.
In an interview with the Westmeath Independent, Paul said he was grateful to play "a small part" in assisting "the real heroes" who are working on the frontline in our health service.
"We are glad to be able to keep up a small bit of flying in these challenging times," he said.
"We are just doing what we normally do - flying aeroplanes. We are honoured to be able to play a small part in assisting the frontline workers. They deserve the recognition for the incredible work they have done so far for our country."
Paul, who attended national school in Rosemount and secondary school in Moate, always wanted to be a pilot. In college, he pursued a course in Aviation Management with Pilot Studies in DCU.
After completing an Aer Lingus pilot cadetship programme, he began flying passengers in June of 2016.
Now living in Dublin, he is a first officer with the airline, and has been flying long-haul routes, on the A330 aircraft, since the beginning of last year.
When the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in Aer Lingus being contracted by the HSE to transport medical supplies from China to Dublin, Paul was called in to assist.
"A huge team effort was required across every department in the airline to get these flights up and running," he said.
"Great support from various organisations, such as the Irish Aviation Authority, the Chinese Embassy and the Pilot Representative Body (IALPA), enabled the first flight to depart for Beijing in a matter of days.
"I am one of five pilots on a particular trip. We normally operate with two or three pilots, depending on the destination, but these flights have five because we fly straight back to Dublin once the aircraft is loaded. Each trip takes about 28 hours to get there and back," he explained.
"I have been on four trips so far, since March 30, with a few more planned over the next few weeks. Once we land into Beijing, we remain onboard in the business class cabin to rest before the flight home. Exiting the aircraft is not allowed due to strict quarantine measures currently in force."
The plane is typically on the ground in Beijing for four to six hours, as two aircraft engineers and a ground operations specialist oversee the loading of the PPE supplies.
"Aer Lingus, like several other airlines, was granted permission to carry cargo in the passenger seats of the aircraft, which maximises the cargo carrying potential."
Paul said storing cargo in the passenger seats allowed the plane to carry "about 22 tonnes" of PPE back to Ireland, which is of critical importance to the frontline staff dealing with the pandemic.