Who is your founder?
Mark Jacobsen is an active duty C-17 cargo pilot and Middle East Specialist in the US Air Force, and is currently pursuing his doctoral PhD in Political Science at Stanford University. He founded Uplift after doing research among Syrian refugees in eastern Turkey in 2014. He received an Olmsted scholarship in 2008, spent two years in Amman learning Arabic, and earned a Master’s of Arts in Conflict Resolution from the University of Jordan. The Syria Airlift Project and Uplift Aeronautics are his personal initiatives.
What is your mission?
Our legally binding mission for Uplift Aeronautics is to empower and aid communities through innovative aviation technologies.
Our pilot project’s mission is to demonstrate the capability to reliably and sustainably deliver humanitarian aid into Syria.
Is this legal?
We are in the process of applying for all necessary licenses and plan to follow all U.S. and Turkish legal regulations related to our project. We are actively working with many stakeholders to ensure that all future actions will be in compliance with the law.
Bringing humanitarian aid into Syria is specifically addressed in United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2139, 2165, and 2191.
UNSCR 2165 and 2191 state, “all Syrian parties to the conflict shall enable the immediate and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance directly to people throughout Syria” by UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners and are tasked with “immediately removing all impediment to the provision of humanitarian assistance.” UNSCR 2191 renewed this decision until 10 January 2016.
In addition, UNSCR 2139 “[d]emands that all parties respect the principle of medical neutrality and facilitate free passage to all areas for medical personnel, equipment, transport and supplies, including surgical items, and recalls that under international humanitarian law, the wounded and sick must receive, to the fullest extent practicable, and with the least possible delay, medical care and attention required by their condition and that medical and humanitarian personnel, facilities and transport must be respected and protected.”
Who are you guys?
We are a group of volunteers comprised of Stanford PhDs, a Syrian Engineer, a Harvard law student, a former State Department Syrian desk officer, a Quaker pacifist, the communications director for Science Fiction Writers of America, a specialist on peaceful uses for technology, and many others.
Who do you support politically?
The Syria Airlift Project is politically neutral and is focused on innocent civilians–not governments, rebel groups, or other militias. Our logo includes the flags of both the Syrian government and opposition groups overlaid with a peace dove.
We are focused on delivering humanitarian aid to populations inaccessible to traditional aid organizations and plan to operate as a service provider for those organizations. Uplift Aeronautics and the Syria Airlift Project operate in a legal and transparent fashion, and fully intend to cooperate with all relevant bodies of law. This includes US export regulations, Turkish import regulations, sanctions law on Syria, and others. We are consulting with the US Air Force, US State Department, the Humanitarian UAV Network, and various medical NGOs, and are receiving legal assistance from Harvard Law School. We will only execute in-country if we can do so in a way that is safe, responsible, and legal.
What about people stealing your technology?
Technology transfer is indeed a concern. That is why the Syria Airlift Project plans to launch and recover from neighboring countries, and has developed failsafes that cripple the autopilots in the event of crashes inside Syria.
Armed groups already have UAV technology. ISIS is using multicopters for imagery, and militias in the Ukraine are using this technology for military reconnaissance. Pandora’s box has been opened, and this technology is out there… for better or worse. The bad guys have it; the Syria Airlift Project is trying to give it to the good guys.
What about violating sovereign airspace?
Violating the sovereign territory or airspace of another country is no small matter which is why it’s so significant that the UN Security Council took the unprecedented steps of authorizing non-consensual aid delivery inside Syria with resolutions 2139, 2165 and 2191. The UN decided that the rights of individual citizens to food and medical care trumped the norm of non-intervention in another government’s affairs. Non-consensual aid is being delivered inside Syria every day. We are also talking with the Syrian National Coalition, which the U.S. government recognizes as a legitimate political actor inside Syria. Again, the Syria Airlift Project is working closely with the requisite authorities to ensure its flights are grounded in both domestic and international law.
How do you decide who gets aid?
The Syria Airlift Project is a creative logistics company, which aims to deliver aid for humanitarian nonprofits and NGOs. We will work with partners who have extensive experience in the field of humanitarian aid delivery. Ultimately they will decide who receives cargo, and where. We will just be a part of their supply chain.
The Syria Airlift’s partner NGOs have identified a number of locations they could make a difference that are within reach of the border. And while we have no love for the brutal fighting groups occupying much of the territory inside Syria (many of whom are responsible for hoarding and depriving civilians of aid), we believe that civilians suffering inside this territory still deserve medical care. We are working with experienced NGOs to discuss where and when to deliver aid in ways that do not empower extremist groups. These dilemmas are not unique to our project; they are a tragic reality for all aid organizations working inside conflict zones like Syria.
How many drones are you hoping to fly for the Syrian Airlift Project?
We plan to begin with a single aircraft, which will allow us to test and validate our assumptions with a minimum of risk. From there we can scale as necessary. We would like to operate fleets of 10-15 aircraft, but can establish multiple fleets to meet the needs of the humanitarian organizations we service.
How do you know where to send these aircraft?
Experienced and trustworthy nonprofit organizations have been working in Syria for years, and maintain trusted networks of contacts inside the country. The Syria Airlift Project will be a service provider for these organizations, and will trust their judgment about where to deliver cargo.
Does this project pose risks for people on the ground?
This is an important question, and one we are taking very seriously. Syrians trapped inside Syria are exposed to unimaginable horrors, including indiscriminate artillery shelling, barrel bombs, and even chemical attacks. It is possible that aid deliveries could bring additional risks, but given the dire humanitarian situation in many places, that extra risk might be worth it. This is ultimately a decision that people on the ground should make for themselves, which is why we are trusting experienced and professional aid organizations–who maintain contacts inside the country–to help us direct aid.
What will you do with the money if you don’t raise enough in your crowdfunding campaign?
In addition to our crowdfunding campaign, we are seeking grants and donations from other sources. We will continue fundraising until we are able to execute our pilot project in Turkey.
What will you do with the money if you exceed your goal in your crowdfunding campaign?
We will continue developing and implementing technology solutions that advance Uplift’s mission of empowering and aiding communities through innovative aviation technology. We are especially interested in running a separate pilot project to support medical deliveries in austere environments. We will also continue to research and develop new technology that can support our missions in Syria and elsewhere.