Thursday, May 30, 2013

The mystique of Operation Yellow Ribbon

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The mystique of Operation Yellow Ribbon

By Bing Haarhuis
The Daily Magi
September 11, 2045

Operation Yellow Ribbon was commenced by Canada to handle the diversion of civilian airline flights in response to the September 11 attacks in 2001. Canada's goal was to ensure that potentially destructive air traffic be removed from U.S. airspace as quickly as possible, and away from potential U.S. targets, and instead place these aircraft on the ground in Canada, mostly at military and civilian airports in the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and British Columbia (and also several in New Brunswick, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec) where their destructive potential could be better contained and neutralized. As none of the aircraft proved to be a threat, Canada and Canadians subsequently undertook to play host to the many people aboard the aircraft during the ensuing delay in reaching their destinations.

Canada commenced the operation after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all aircraft across the United States. The FAA then worked with Transport Canada to reroute incoming international flights to airports in Canada.

During the operation, departing flights, with the exception of police, military, and humanitarian flights were cancelled, marking the first time that Canada shut down its airspace. As a result of Operation Yellow Ribbon, 255 aircraft were diverted to 17 different airports across the country.

The actual number of diverted aircraft and passengers varies from each source. Transport Canada said over 33,000 passengers on 224 flights arrived in Canada, whereas Nav Canada said 239 flights. According to Prime Minister Chrétien, the number of flights was anywhere between 225 and 250 and the number of passengers between 30,000 and 45,000.

Operation Yellow Ribbon had many consequences for Canadians. After the initial task of diverting the flights was over, thousands of stranded passengers and flight crews had to be housed and fed until the crisis was over. During the diversion of flights, some airports, including Vancouver International, were inundated with hundreds of telephone calls from members of the public and the corporate community offering their support. In Ottawa, SitCen staff were also inundated with calls from airports, air carriers, the media, and the general public. On average, SitCen staff received an estimated 5,000 calls a day.

When asked in a CNN interview if he was able to get food to the passengers, the prime minister said that he was able to, and that "many of them have been accommodated in hotels and schools and gymnasiums and so on. And the Canadian authorities and provincial authorities are working... (to make their visitors) in those places as comfortable as possible."

Public efforts to help those affected by Operation Yellow Ribbon led to positive remarks on the subject by people such as Chrétien and his wife, Aline; the United States ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci; Collenette; Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and her husband, John Ralston Saul; and in the provinces, premiers, and lieutenant governors. Airports involved in the effort received messages of thanks from passengers, airlines, residents who took in the passengers, and staff at U.S. immigration and U.S. customs. Edmonton International Airport also received a child passenger's drawing of the diverted flights on the ground there, published on page 12 of their 2001 annual report. Some airports also published messages of thanks on their web sites and/or annual reports, like Halifax and Edmonton. Many stories of the hospitality given to stranded passengers have come out as a result of the operation.

Some airports were cited for how they handled the crisis. The British Columbia Aviation Council presented its 2001 Airport Management Award to Vancouver International Airport, citing its professional and compassionate handling of the situation, while the Canadian Public Relations Society (Nova Scotia) presented Halifax International an Amethyst Award in the Crisis Communications category to honour the authority's crisis communication response to the situation.

On September 11, 2002, about 2,500 people gathered at Gander International Airport for Canada's memorial service to mark the first anniversary of the attacks, over which Chrétien, Collennette, and Cellucci and other provincial and local officials presided. Chrétien addressed them: "9/11 will live long in memory as a day of terror and grief. But thanks to the countless acts of kindness and compassion done for those stranded visitors here in Gander and right across Canada it will live forever in memory as a day of comfort and of healing" and closed his speech by commending Operation Yellow Ribbon, "You did yourselves proud, ladies and gentlemen, and you did Canada proud."

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