Haiti relief efforts prove GA’s benefits

 - February 18, 2010, 5:20 AM

Not long after the massive earthquake laid waste to Haiti on January 12, the general aviation infrastructure in the U.S. mounted some of the earliest relief efforts. Accounts of flights carrying doctors, aid workers, medical supplies and food to Haiti are legion, as donors from all over the world funneled supplies to the devastated country through airports in South Florida.

According to the U.S. Air Force– which assumed control of Port-au-Prince’s airport soon after the disaster at the request of the Haitian government–40 percent of the aircraft that have landed there since the airport reopened on January 14 have been U.S. civil registered, the vast majority of them general aviation airplanes. Statistics from flight tracking provider FlightAware show more than 600 general aviation flights heading to Port-au-Prince from the U.S. in the month following the disaster; more than double that number headed for Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, as the airport there became a staging ground for the delivery of supplies.

While flights at Port-au-Prince Toussaint L’Ouverture International reached a peak of more than 140 on January 19, with a four-day backlog for landing slots, they had declined to a daily pace of approximately 80 to 90 movements a month after the earthquake, as the wait for landing slots was cut in half. The January 21 arrival of a mobile FAA control tower staffed by Air Force and Haitian controllers streamlined ATC at Port-au-Prince. Around the same time, pilots reported that fuel–jet-A and 100LL–was once again available. The airport reopened to commercial flights in the third week of February as major carriers such as American Airlines resumed operations into the repaired passenger terminal.

While the initial scene at the airport was described as “chaotic” after the quake, order has been established and access to the ramp has been restricted. Although early reports described refugees attempting to board aircraft as soon as the doors opened, the situation has evolved and prospective outbound passengers now establish orderly lines and present appropriate documents to the security personnel before they are reviewed by the flight crews and allowed on board. One early source of confusion, the transport of orphans, appears to have been regulated as the U.S. agencies involved developed stringent protocols.

The industry relief networking group Corporate Aviation Responding in Emergencies (Care) arranged hundreds of relief flights into and between Haiti and the Dominican Republic during the first month of the disaster, using donated business aircraft, carrying almost 3,000 medical personnel and passengers and delivering approximately 890,000 pounds of supplies.

The number of flights per aircraft varied from one mission to as many as 40, such as was flown by a Citation X belonging to privately owned Internet marketing firm iWorks. Company founder and philanthropist Jeremy Johnson ordered the jet’s flight schedule cleared and assembled a team of employees and a local doctor to leave from St. George, Utah, for the Dominican Republic. Johnson, who holds a private helicopter rating, also had his Eurocopter EC130 ferried from Santa Monica, Calif., to Santo Domingo. Johnson arrived in the Dominican Republic three days after the disaster and immediately purchased a pair of Robinson R44s and established a base camp in the town of Jimani on the Haiti border. He and other pilots flew the trio of helicopters continually during daylight hours, delivering tons of supplies and transporting more than 200 gravely injured people to medical care. According to Scott Rye, iWorks aviation manager, over the past month the Citation X alone has logged some 70 flight hours in the relief effort, transported 254 passengers and carried more than 25,000 pounds of supplies.

Help on the Ground
While there has been praise for those who donated the general aviation aircraft that made the contributions flow to where they were needed, there has been little mention of the importance of the general aviation infrastructure, specifically the airports and FBOs that are the beating heart of the U.S. aviation industry.

Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport was one field that saw a lot of traffic, and through January 27 facilitated 275 flights transporting 255,000 pounds of cargo and 1,240 passengers. FBO Banyan Air Service worked closely with Windsor Jet Management, Hop-A-Jet, Sky Limo, Jet Support Services (JSSI), other local companies and the network set up by Care to get supplies to Haiti as quickly as possible.

Banyan also offered special fuel prices for Haiti flights and coordinated efforts with airport operations staff, the control tower and the local U.S. Customs and Border Patrol office, which helped by staying open 24/7.

“Once again, business and private aviation–along with Windsor Jet Management, Care, JSSI and Banyan Air Service–has led the way in saving lives and placing supplies and personnel in the places most desperate while the military and government agencies work through international policy and political protocol,” said Banyan president Don Campion.

JSSI purchased 20,000 pounds of supplies and helped Care volunteers load donated aircraft for departure from Fort Lauderdale Executive. JSSI also helped operators by waiving hourly fees for donated aircraft covered by its hourly maintenance cost programs. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America (MHIA) arranged for donation of a Boeing 767 in partnership with Operation USA, shipping power generators, light towers, food, medical supplies and tents to Haiti.

NBAA members, wrote association president and CEO Ed Bolen in an opinion piece published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “are among the many whose employees are answering the call: donating their airplanes, their time and their skills to save lives and bring help to those people of Haiti. Arranging these humanitarian flights to get help on the ground fast is only part of the challenge. Two weeks later, conditions in Haiti still presented risks to these missions of mercy because of damage and overcrowding at Haiti’s few airports and airfields.

“Here at home, we are more fortunate. America is better equipped to tap the generosity of business aviation during emergencies in large part because of more than 4,000 public airports and thousands of companies that use business airplanes. Ours is the largest air-transportation network in the world and the only one capable of supporting such a tremendous response. The network of general-aviation airfields and aircraft in the U.S. did not materialize overnight. And, rest assured, it will be around for the foreseeable future to provide lifesaving help when disasters strike–at home and beyond our shores.”