SEATTLE, Wash.—Hospitals across the country are seeing an influx of patients related to COVID-19. In order to save lives and protect vital frontline health workers, they need supplies and professional reinforcements—and they need them now. Western Michigan University alumnus Noam Morgenstern is among the fleet of pilots helping to deliver.
A first officer for Alaska Airlines, the fifth largest airline in the United States, Morgenstern has logged thousands of miles transporting critical people and cargo to more than 115 destinations across North America.
“The flights that I do operate carry badly-needed essential health care professionals and supplies that are critical to the communities we serve—in some cases more so than in the past,” says Morgenstern, whose routes take him everywhere from New York to Honolulu, Hawaii. “With that said, Alaska Airlines has always been an essential lifeline to many communities in the state of Alaska as well.”
The current pandemic makes the flights Morgenstern runs even more critical. With a diverse fleet of 237 Boeing and Airbus aircraft, in addition to normal passenger service, the airline has transported hundreds of thousands of masks and personal protective equipment to hospitals as well as provided miles to transport medical professionals to coronavirus response hotspots through Angel Flight West. Morgenstern’s routine work also makes a huge difference in those small communities that depend on Alaska Airlines’ dedicated fleet to provide goods and essential services.
“My role as a pilot supporting the communities I fly to has been my childhood dream, and I am extremely lucky to be able to live it and help entire communities in the process,” says Morgenstern, who graduated from WMU in 2002 with a degree in aviation flight science.
While essential employees do face risks reporting to work in a pandemic, Morgenstern says he feels more comfortable in the airport right now than he does in his home community.
“Airports and aircraft are much emptier than normal. So, socially distancing is actually easier at the airport than it is at home if I have to go to the store,” he says. “Yes, there’s still a risk that I take into account, but Alaska Airlines helps me mitigate that risk.”
Morgenstern says his airline accomplishes that through enhanced cleaning programs and supplying employees with essential equipment like masks and cleansing wipes to keep them safe, as well as speaking with infectious disease experts to guide response.
PREPARED FOR TURBULENCE
While the impact of the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, Morgenstern has navigated adversity before. His experiences during the Great Recession—when he was furloughed twice by two different airlines—and after 9/11 have helped him to remain optimistic that he and his fellow pilots will continue to be essential in the future, despite the nosedive in airline travel due to coronavirus concerns.
“The skills WMU taught me—in addition to the technical skills to fly an aircraft at a high level—included how the pilot fits into the global aviation industry, how to be an effective part of a team and how to think beyond my role as a pilot to see the big picture,” he says. “Having many business classes built into the curriculum helped me understand the economics of the company I work for as well as the overall industry—skills that continue to serve me every day in my professional life.”
Those skills are what will propel WMU aviation graduates to the top of the industry through the turbulence created by the pandemic.
“The school is extremely forward thinking, with Dean Dave Powell and his leadership team understanding the future needs of the industry very well,” says Morgenstern, who has been visiting WMU and offering guidance to students for the past 12 years.
“I am extremely proud of the support the school offers its students through the Academic Advising Office and hiring industry veterans to teach up-to-date curriculum that will help students navigate this ever-changing airline industry.”
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