Evergreen Helicopters: Lost in Haiti or Lost in Translation?
January 22, 2010
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  • By Steve Duin,

    In the past 48 hours, we’ve seen an intriguing contrast in news reports on the contributions of two area businesses to the Haitian relief effort.

    On Wednesday morning, TEC Equipment of Portland announced it donated its corporate jet — at a cost of $35,000 — to fly seven doctors from Medical Teams International into the earthquake zone.

    A day earlier, Emily Troutman of AOL Sphere, blogging from the Dominican Republic, wrote about the struggle of a French search-and-rescue team to reach Port-au-Prince.

    Stranded at the Santo Domingo airport, the French crew bumps into a commercial helicopter pilot from McMinnville, Troutman writes:

    “Bill Doonen, a representative of Evergreen Helicopters, said he could take the French team in. But it would cost about $7,000 an hour, with a four-hour minimum.”

    I’m at a loss for words.

    On the one hand, you have a trucking outfit whose 400 employees are desperate to ease the catastrophic suffering in a country where the death toll may reach 200,000.

    TEC not only supplies the Cessna that rushes the doctors to Haiti, but president and CEO Dave Thompson also steps up to pilot the corporate jet.

    On the other hand, you have Evergreen Helicopters, seemingly desperate to take advantage of this crisis. While office workers, shoppers and schoolchildren are still buried in the rubble, their pilot wants $7,000 an hour — with that four-hour minimum, mind you — before his chopper leaves the ground.

    Just when you think the disparity can’t get worse, Evergreen’s Doonen informs Troutman he can’t wait for the generosity of the suckers from companies like TEC Equipment to run its course.

    “People are (taking) a lot of humanitarian, charity flights in now,” he says. “But that’s going to dry up soon. And that’s where we come in.”

    Yikes. Ghoulishly opportunistic to the bitter end.

    I realize that not everyone may be called to contribute to the rescue and rebuilding efforts in Haiti. While the need for helicopters is particularly severe in a country where so many roads and bridges are unusable, Evergreen is under no obligation to give beyond its means.

    It’s already mid-January. The company’s annual supply of charity may be used up.

    But a lack of interest in humanitarian relief is one thing. A $7,000 hourly rate is another.

    And waiting for the charity-minded competition to dry up and fly away is another thing entirely.

    When I contacted Evergreen Helicopters, Rick Campfield — returning the call from Santo Domingo — insisted the comments by Doonen, who is based in Panama, were taken out of context.

    Campfield said Doonen and a French pilot were simply comparing competitive rates: “That’s just dialog between operators.”

    But when I pressed him on this, Campfield allowed, “Every aviation provider finds themselves balancing supporting missions like this and making sure you can keep your lights on and pay for the jet fuel and the maintenance crew.

    “We look at each mission profile. It’s a balance between the two.”

    Campfield also forwarded me a statement from David Rath, the president of Evergreen Helicopters, who said the company moved a variety of people into Haiti, including folks from World Vision and doctors from Texas Tech.

    “We did not receive any funds for these trips, nor reimbursement for our costs to or from the region,” Rath said. “We have a long history in providing humanitarian relief all over the world.”

    That’s encouraging to hear. I’d hate to think the ugly Americans just flew in from McMinnville.

    Date: 2010-01-20