International aid floods into tiny Haiti airport

2010-01-15 10:48

US personnel took over air traffic control at Port-au-Prince’s

airport yesterday, as aid groups and world governments tried to fly planeloads

of aid into the limited Haitian airfield.

“I think we have taken over, you know, air traffic control

responsibility. We’ve got a lot of personnel who are assisting in the process of

on-loading and off-loading,” said US State Department spokesperson Philip

Crowley.

“The good news is it’s now operating at a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week

capability,” he said. “But the bad news is it is a very limited airport, with

one runway and limited ramp space.”

The airport became a staging ground for an enormous international

relief effort to the stricken Caribbean nation, which is struggling to cope with

a massive 7.0 earthquake that flattened much of the capital and may have killed

up to 100 000 people.

The first wave of aid flights quickly overwhelmed the single runway

at Toussaint L’Ouverture airport, with military and civilian aid flights forced

to circle for hours awaiting a landing spot.

Military transport from Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic,

France, Peru and the US jostled for space on the tarmac as helicopters from

several air forces buzzed overhead.

US Lieutenant Colonel Brett Nelson, deployed to Haiti to assist in

the relief efforts, said flights were continuing, though there were

delays.

“We have established air field control, conducting 24-hour

operations at Port-au-Prince airport,” he said in a phone briefing from

Haiti.

“Although we have experienced significant slowdown primarily due to

the support capacities in Port-au-Prince,” added Nelson, commander of the 23rd

Special Tactics Squadron.

“We are working with the FAA to establish some kind of priorities

so that we get the most urgent capabilities and supplies into the Port-au-Prince

airport,” he said.

Nelson told reporters that at one point yesterday, there were 44

aircraft on the ground off-loading aid and picking up evacuees.


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