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New England Patriots plane bringing 1.2 million N95 masks from China to the US

New England Patriots football team's plane, loaned to the Naval Academy football team on Dec. 26, 2019. (Naval Academy Athletic Association/Released)
April 02, 2020

On Wednesday morning, the New England Patriots turned over their team plane to fly a shipment of more than a million face masks from Shenzhen, China back to Massachusetts.

The masks were turned over through a deal struck between Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and several Chinese manufacturers. The plane is expected to arrive back in Massachusetts on Thursday. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Patriots volunteered their plane to the cause after Baker called in a favor for a team to act as an intermediary to ship the supplies as shipments out of China have become complicated by quarantines.

Baker was reportedly concerned about his state’s mask supply and negotiated the deal two weeks ago. That was when he turned to a friend, Jonathan Kraft, the son of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Baker said, “I just have to get [the masks] here.”

After striking the deal and bringing the New England Patriots on board, the next challenge was in making sure the plane was ready to fly the long journey. The plane also had to figure in some logistical calculations, considering it is configured for carrying the team and staff, not cargo. A total of 1.7 million masks were originally intended for the shipment, but the plane’s configuration could not accommodate the total shipment. The plane instead took on 1.2 million masks.

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The team also needed to gain permission needed to land their plane in China, but avoid the crew becoming subject to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. The team managed a solution for arriving at the Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport. Once the plane touched the ground in China it was only permitted to stay there for a three-hour window while a ground crew loaded the cargo.

In total, the process of landing, loading the getting back in the air reportedly took 2 hours and 57 minutes.

The effort to get the masks quickly loaded was aided by a Chinese tech company, Tencent, which gathered a crew of more than a dozen people to count, inspect and clear the masks through customs. They reportedly gathered the masks from various different suppliers and got them to the airport in Shenzhen in time for the quick turnaround.

“I’ve never seen so much red tape in so many ways and obstacles that we had to overcome,” Robert Kraft said. “In today’s world, those of us who are fortunate to make a difference have a significant responsibility to do so with all the assets we have available to us.”

In addition to negotiating the logistics of the effort, the Kraft family reportedly paid $2 million dollars, covering approximately half the cost of the masks.

The plane is scheduled to land sometime on Thursday at the Boston Logan International Airport. According to Politico, once the plane arrives the state’s National Guard will transport the equipment to a medical equipment stockpile in Marlboro, Mass.