By Paul F. Bove, Air Force Public Affairs Agency
U.S. Air Force Colonel John Romero, chief of Air Mobility Division for the 612th Air Operations Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, A.Z.; Lieutenant Colonel Brad Graff, 601st Air Operations Center, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida; and Major Dave Smith, U.S. Air Force were on the DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable on 21 January to discuss how Airmen are managing the flow of aircraft into Haiti. With the recent boom of humanitarian flights going into and out of the Port au Prince Airport, missions have increased to approximately 140 per day (at an airport capable of handling approximately 50 per day).
The airstrip capabilities being implemented in Haiti make up what is now called the Haiti Flight Operation Coordination Center (HFOCC) and are based on lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. These practices are allowing the Air Force to safely and effectively manage inbound and outbound flights so that aid can arrive in the safest, most efficient manner.
It is apparent that there are major difficulties in coordinating all the relief flights that want to come into Port au Prince. Col. Romero said that Air Mobility in Davis-Monthan is “focusing on getting the right things at the right time into the airport in Haiti to support the Haitian government and the people of Haiti.” The “right things” include numerous requests of support from NGOs who want to bring supplies, doctors and other people to help. Col. Graff stated, “As far as how many requests we’re getting, all I can tell you is that our phones are ringing off the hook continuously 24/7. The ramp is being fully utilized 24/7. So the demand for the ramp is continuous and insatiable.”
The use of designated slot times and shipment priorities, as decided by the Haitian government, play heavily into the scheduling of flights. Factor in the limited capabilities of the airstrip and there is a lot of room for failure.
To ensure success, the HFOCC is enforcing landing time slots. Organizations, including the military and anybody else who wants to fly in, must have a landing slot. “What we were having was everyone wanted to get in and they couldn’t, but they came anyway,” said Col. Romero. He likened it to JFK Airport suddenly having twice as many flight wanting to land even though the additional planes never called to say they were arriving.
Col. Romero continued, “I understand everyone thinks they have the number-one priority, but not everyone truly does have the highest priority. And you have to rack and stack those, and that’s why we depend on the Haitian government there to work with the Joint Taskforce and the U.N. Mission so that we make sure we get the right prioritized cargo and we can schedule those folks with the right slot times at the right times to get into Port-au-Prince.”
To reiterate the point, Col. Graff said, “We’re not trying to bar people or limit the field. Far from it. We’ve tripled the flow through that field. So your chances of getting in are better now than ever. You just do need to follow the procedures that are in place. We don’t like to think of ourselves as limiting that airfield; we like to think of ourselves as facilitator that are allowing things, the proper agencies, allowing people to get in there in a more timely manner.”
Ultimately, the successful airfield management of the HFOCC will allow for the Haitians to receive the aid and support they currently need.
Photo 1: U.S. citizens living in Haiti evacuate from Troussaint Louverture International Airport, on board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III on Jan. 18, 2010. An earthquake devastated much of the capital city, Port au Prince. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Master Sgt. Russell E. Cooley IV)
Photo 2: U.S Army PFC Keenan Roberts, Second Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne, removes supplies from a U.S. Navy helicopter at the airport in Port au Prince, Haiti, on Jan.19, 2010, during Operation Unified Response. This operation, led by U.S. Agency for International Development, is part of the U.S. Department of Defense effort to provide aid and relief to Haitian citizens affected by the Jan. 12, 2010, 7.0 magnitude earthquake here. (U.S. Air Force photo by. Tech. Sgt Prentice Colter)