Business Aviation Aids Humanitarian Efforts In Maui

Maui after fire

Aerial photos of Lahaina (West Maui) after the wildfires.

Credit: Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

In one of the most brutal wildfires in recent U.S. history, the people of Maui, Hawaii, lost a great deal.

As of Aug. 11, more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed, totaling approximately $5.5 billion in damages, according to the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC). Thousands of residents were displaced—losing their homes, businesses and schools.

Early estimates suggested more than a thousand people were missing as a result of the fires, but that number has since dropped below 50, according to Hawaii Governor Josh Green. As of Sept. 16, the death toll remains at 97.

“Tragedy that hits one of us is felt by all of us,” said Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen in a public message. “These past few days, the resolve of our families, businesses and visitors have been tested like never before in our lifetime.”

In the hours during the fire’s creep across the community, powered by hurricane-force winds, nearby emergency services, residents and businesses sprang into action. Business aviation was no exception.

Operators such as Atlantic Aviation and Signature Aviation utilized their FBOs to shelter residents escaping the carnage, while also helping coordinate flights off the island. According to the Hawaii Transportation Department, Maui’s Kahului Airport operations were not largely impeded, allowing for Hawaiian Airlines to add flights from Kahului to Honolulu.

Roam Maui, a local private airline, began transporting supplies and donations from Boeing Field in Seattle directly to Maui. Donations came flooding in after Dianne Leppa, who works for Roam Maui, took to social media to gather aid for the affected residents.

“Blessed to have a company that has jets at our disposal, so we have empty cargo space, some empty cargo space that we have been able to load some donations on," Leppa told King 5 Seattle.

Leppa’s call did not go unanswered. Planet 9, a California-based private aviation company, spearheaded donation efforts using an Amazon wish list to gather supplies for Maui residents. According to Planet 9, nearly 3,000 lb. of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) was given to help deliver the donations, supported by Avfuel and Castle & Cooke Aviation.

One of the more unique donations was made by Black Widow Helicopters, a California-based company, in the form of two specially modified Sikorsky UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters to support rebuilding efforts on the island.

“What we do is we take those Black Hawks, we bid them on auction, we win them, we demilitarize them and then our modernization programs revolve around a robust aircraft as a standard airframe and engine cycles, performing live with contemporary ones,” Renne Simoes, Black Widow Helicopters’ director of brand development, says.

“So, the modification that we make does bring these retired Black Hawks from the U.S. military into private use so that it can go into firefighting, search-and-rescue and utility missions. So, through these strategic modifications, the operator, the owner, can extend the lifetime of this aircraft for decades while minimizing costs in comparison to any other new aircraft.”

The helicopters—capable of carrying external loads of up to 9,000 lb.—may serve as an invaluable resource in local rebuilding efforts. According to the PDC, more than 3,000 acres of land were caught in the fire—large portions of which contained residential buildings that will need to be cleared.

“We’re going to do what we can to house the 7,415 people that are currently in hotel rooms and move them into long-term rentals,” Governor Green said in a Sept. 15 update. “We want everyone to get housing for a long time as we rebuild. Mahalo for understanding, and mahalo for your generosity.”

In the following weeks, emergency services will continue to clear West Maui of debris and hazardous materials. It remains ambiguous how long it will be until residents will be able to return to their homes, but the people of Hawaii, despite the circumstances, are remaining strong.

Those looking to support efforts in Maui can visit to find more information on donations and volunteer opportunities.

Jeremy Kariuki

Jeremy Kariuki is Associate Editor for Business Aviation, based in Atlanta. Before joining Aviation Week in April 2023, Jeremy served as a writer for FLYING Magazine, FreightWaves and the Center for Sustainable Journalism.