Haiti Airport Lifeline

People queue up to fly out on a returning aid flight to the USA at Toussaint Louverture International Airport on January 15, just three days after the massive earthquake struck Haiti. (US Navy)

People queue up to fly out on a returning aid flight to the USA at Toussaint Louverture International Airport on January 15, just three days after the massive earthquake struck Haiti. (US Navy)

TOUSSAINT LOUVERTURE International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, found itself thrust into the limelight recently following the devastating earthquake that hit the country on January 12.  The huge magnitude 7 quake left the city in ruins with possibly hundreds of thousands of people dead, injured or homeless.  A massive humanitarian aid operation was launched within hours but was hampered by the severe damage to the country’s infrastructure.  The capital’s port was put out of action meaning that the airport was the only way of getting aid into the area quickly.  However, although the facility’s runway and taxiways were spared from damage, the airport infrastructure was not so lucky − even the ATC tower was rendered useless.  As a result the Haiti government handed over control of the airport to the US Air Force, which flew in mobile ATC equipment and manpower to rapidly open it up to large numbers of humanitarian flights.  Soon more than 100 per day were being handled, although aid distribution was still hampered by damage to the local roads.  US Navy and Marine Corps helicopters, operating from ships off the coast, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), were therefore used to ferry much needed supplies to drop zones set up in and around the capital.
By the end of the month the search and rescue part of the mission was over but the provision of aid is likely to continue for many months.  Many people with the necessary visas and paperwork were allowed to fly out during the aid operation, using the returning empty aid flights as transport.  In the long term the rebuilding of Port-au-Prince and the nation’s infrastructure could take years, so it is likely that Toussaint Louverture International Airport will remain one of the busiest in the region for some considerable time.