More about the crisis and how you can help:state.gov/haitiquake
Colonel Buck Elton, Commander of the Joint Special Operations in Haiti, discussed operations at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince. Colonel Elton said:
"I was tasked with the mission on Wednesday to come down and provide [inaudible] authorities at the Port-au-Prince airfield and provide air traffic control services and general airfield support to the government of Haiti following the earthquake.
"We launched within seven hours of notice and arrived to establish air traffic control in the infield grass of the airfield. Within 28 minutes after landing we linked up with the Haitian authorities and our combat control team used their Victor radios to establish communication with the arriving aircraft.
"We developed a ground plan and we made an offload plan to assist the Haitian material handling equipment personnel in offloading all the supplies that started coming in on Wednesday.
"We are operating out of an airfield that does not have electricity, phones or computers or anything other than what we brought in with us when we arrived that first day. I want to emphasize the point that we are still operating that way. We have combat controllers who work 12 hours shifts in the sun and the grass, working radios and liaising with the Haitian authorities in approach control and in our operation center liaises with the Haitian Flight Operations Coordination Center at Tindal Air Force Base in Florida and the Federal Aviation Administration, to sequence in a very large amount of aircraft into a very small field. I’d like to emphasize again, that this airfield is 10,000 feet long. It has one taxiway in the middle of the airfield. It’s a single in/single out operation. You cannot take off and land aircraft at the same time. It’s one and one.
"We have a ramp that is very small and it will only hold up to 12 aircraft of varying sizes. We can only handle one wide-body aircraft at a time. We’re limited primarily by our civilian material handling equipment that offloads the cargo. It takes up to five hours to offload a 747 or an AirBus 330 because we don’t have enough [equipment] to offload it.
"Approximately three medium sized aircraft, 737 type, and we have again, limited equipment to offload it. C-17 aircraft, although they’re a large category, their wing span is not quite as wide as some of the wide bodies, and they are specifically designed for rapid offload of cargo which we can use military equipment for.
"So the prioritization of the, again, the amounts of global aid that’s being offered up to assist the Haitian government recover from this disaster has to be sequenced in through an airport much like it is at a civilian international airport. There are only so many gates and there are only so many ways to get people in and out. In a country that’s been devastated with an earthquake and is limited on fuel, electricity, vehicles and people to get to work, this has been quite a challenge.
"The international community and the Haitian authorities and the U.S. military have done a fantastic job sequencing in. I’ve got for you that will show that and break it down by type of aircraft.
"Today we scheduled 149 aircraft and the breakdown on flight by flight out of that are 55 U.S. civilian; 51 U.S. government; and 43 international. Roughly breaking down to one-third U.S. military, and two-thirds international aid. Virtually all of the international aid is humanitarian relief, food, water, medical supplies, and [inaudible]. For the past couple of days, about 80 percent of the U.S. military cargo has been in through a C-17 and the 82nd Airborne who is deploying to assist the United Nations and the Haitian authorities in the distribution and security for the ground movement and the port movement of the supplies into the internationally coordinated distribution centers.
"We think we are striking a reasonable balance between bringing in military hardware and international humanitarian aid, and we rely heavily on the cooperation between the United States Southern Command, the Haitian government, non-governmental organizations led by USAID for the United States, and Transportation Command out of the Haitian Flight Operations Coordination Center.
"We’re doing remarkable things on the ground, and because of the limitations of what we have on the ramp, we have aircraft break, we have material handling equipment to offload the cargo break, we have fuel problems, and then we have aircraft that are waiting to unload [inaudible]. When you have a schedule that allows for a certain amount ground time and that schedule is changed by longer ground time than we planned, you’re going to have some overflow, some divert.
"When we first started this operation we had between 40 and 50 divert a day because there was no coordination and flow control into this airfield and we simply couldn’t handle it. We established flow control procedures, we are focusing our flow control out to the 10th of February, we are prioritizing every day which cargo should get in before which cargo, again based on inputs from the Haitian government and the international organization, and when we get unexpected delays, much like we get at international airports when weather or other events prevent aircraft from getting in, we have to divert them. Large aircraft are hard to work in because we only have so much space.
"Early on in the operation we had an AirBus 330 block half the ramp because they did not listen to [inaudible] instructions and they shut down and we could only use half the ramp. We have worked through those procedures with the pilots and with the companies that operate the airlines and we’re a very efficient operation out there. I would like to point out that we have brought in many flights into the airfield and we have not had - it is uncontrolled airspace, no radar, [procedural control] primarily using radios while standing in the grass next to the runway, and we have had zero mishaps with over 1800, as of yesterday, 1800 fixed wing aircraft since we arrived on Wednesday, and 600 helicopters into an airfield, Port-au-Prince, which averaged 15 fixed wing and 20 helicopters a day.
"I want to emphasize again, we are doing this without electricity, computers, and with fuel shortage and everything else. It is a remarkable operation that’s going out there."
Read the full briefing here.