Airfield Support in Haiti

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
January 24, 2010
Canadians Unload Relief Supplies at Airport in Haiti

More about the crisis and how you can

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.



New Jersey, USA
January 25, 2010

Rosemary in New Jersey writes:

Thank you, Colonel Elton, for your service, and especially for your excellent explanation of the challenges involved in coordinating relief coming into and out of that airport. I am going to tweet and retweet this post because I am a little tired of people complaining about the way we are running this airport when they have no idea of the difficulties involved.

Instead of complaining and criticizing, we should all be applauding how efficiently Col. Elton and his Special Ops are keeping the traffic flowing.


Ernie H.
Michigan, USA
January 25, 2010

Ernie H. in Michigan writes:

I am glad you come back and explain the things that happen and what you did to solve them.
News clips do not clearly explain thing.
And I hope your learning things for the next time.. because there will be a next time..

Florida, USA
January 25, 2010

Iris in Florida writes:

I was at the airport working with the U.S. Department of State and worked with civilian and military government emmployees assisting Asmerican and Hatians. Everybody is doing a remarkable job under extremely difficult circumstances. I am very proud of them all.

Tennessee, USA
January 25, 2010

Ppkdjls2 in Tennessee writes:

Thank you for the information and for what you do. Good job!

January 26, 2010

Rob writes:

Fanstastic to read the acount of how the 'airport' is being managed under such appalling circumstances to help the Haitian people.
I was distressed however to see on the second day on Tv coverage tented camps set up beside the airstrip when the locals had not had any water delivered. I know there must be organsisation and those helping also need food and protection but it cannot be good for these poor poeple to see that those needs were met to first. The tents did not look like first aid or mobile hospital units also they were within the airport boundary fence. It is hearwarming to see the soldiers handballing water outers from the aircraft, but why ??? the soldiers could be used in better ways why not organside some of these young Haitian men to do the unloading it would give them something productive to do, instead of watching from the other side of the fence, it would allow them to help when they are desperate -they would also see how difficult all this organising is and get less frustrated with the delays.
However I have to hand it to you for organsing this in what we assume is the most efficient way it can be done its hard to watch the agony these people are suffering and easy to criticise. A balance must be met between the number of personnel on the ground that will need servicing and support, or the daily landing of planes will be hauling mainly support for them rather than aid.

Mark H.
Wisconsin, USA
January 27, 2010

Mark A. H. in Wisconsin writes:

Our military is doing an awesome job!

Could the military help us??

This is a missions group from the Harvestime Church in Eau Claire Wi, which is a
part of Servants of All Ministry. These folks have a web site for the orphanage
found at Perhaps if you view the website you'll
get a better understanding than that which I can convey in words.

We are prepared to fly to Miami or anyplace else for that matter, if we could
get on a relief flight to PAP. We are an 11 member medical team needing flight into PAP, unable to get there commercially. We will have folks at PAP to pick us up and get us to our orphanage in Grand Goave.

I don't expect this comment to be posted, but if you could get me in touch with the right people so that we may proceed with our relief mission to 80+ kids in the orphanage.



Sandy W.
California, USA
January 29, 2010

Sandy and Pete W. in California write:

Colonel Buck E., Commander of the Joint Special Operations in Haiti, Dear loved one of the E./W. Clan....We salute you!

Twas a noble tree who shoot forth such a bud,
You are our safe and come home soon.

Love you,

Uncle Pete and Sandy

Therese B.
January 31, 2010

Therese Marie B. in France writes:

In these extraordinary times, the flexibiltiy to meet the challenges, the courage and hope given is America at its best. We are very proud of Col. A.M. (Buck) Elton and his team for this remarkable work in Haiti.

Sincerely yours,
Teri (Aunt)

February 13, 2010

Abid in Haiti writes:

I am retired from Pakistan Air Force as an Asst Air Traffic Controller. I help you for Haiti people.

Gerald H.
Pennsylvania, USA
February 26, 2010

Gerald H. in Pennsylvania writes:

DuraDeck has produced a white paper for Haiti Airport efficiency - improvement % 46
Reaching out to anyone who can aid us with proper contact to present our plan.
Safety to military and civilan activity is one of the main features of our proposal.

The cost is extremely low considering the effective results.


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