Fuel, equipment shortages hindering Haiti relief effort
ARLINGTON, Va. – Air operations at Port-au-Prince airport in Haiti have slowed down significantly because there is not enough equipment to fuel and move incoming planes, an Air Force officer said.
Right now, there are only two fuel trucks and two towbars for all the aircraft landing, said Lt. Col. Brett J. Nelson, commander of the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, 720th Special Tactics Group, which is directing air traffic at Port-au-Prince.
“When an aircraft lands and requires fuel and has to be moved around on the airfield by towing, it significantly delays us processing that aircraft and getting it back out,” Nelson told a bloggers roundtable on Thursday.
A contingency response group for Air Mobility Command was expected to start bringing more equipment later on Thursday, Nelson said. He could not say how many people are in this group.
Nelson could not say how many planes have come through Port-au-Prince since Tuesday’s earthquake, but at one point Thursday, there were 44 aircraft on the ground.
The sheer number of aircraft on the ground and a lack of fuel prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to close the Port-au-Prince airport to inbound civilian aircraft on Thursday morning, an FAA spokeswoman said.
The move was originally supposed to last until 4 p.m. Thursday, but it was later extended to 11 p.m., according to the FAA. It does not apply to military aircraft, said Robert Appin, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command.
Until the 720th Special Tactics Group arrived Wednesday evening, aircraft were landing and unloading haphazardly, Nelson said.
“It was kind of a mess when we first started, and we continue to clean that up and improve our processes and our understanding of how to best utilize the available ramp space,” he said.
Airmen have also established a security perimeter around the Port-au-Prince airfield, and there have been no breaches so far, Nelson said.