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Haiti airport transitions, commercial flights begin

Passengers from an American Airlines flight from Miami walk throught the terminal at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The flight was the first commercial airline flight since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused severe damage in and around Port-au-Prince Jan. 12. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Spike Call/Released)

Passengers from an American Airlines flight from Miami walk throught the terminal at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The flight was the first commercial airline flight since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused severe damage in and around Port-au-Prince Jan. 12. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Spike Call/Released)

A pilot aboard an American Airlines flight from Miami waves a Haitian flag from the cockpit of his plane as it arrives at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. American Airlines was the first commercial airline to resume flights into Haiti since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused severe damage in and around Port-au-Prince Jan. 12. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Spike Call/Released)

A pilot aboard an American Airlines flight from Miami waves a Haitian flag from the cockpit of his plane as it arrives at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. American Airlines was the first commercial airline to resume flights into Haiti since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused severe damage in and around Port-au-Prince Jan. 12. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Spike Call/Released)

An American Airlines aircraft arrives at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The flight, from Miami, was the first commercial airline flight since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused severe damage in and around Port-au-Prince Jan. 12. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Spike Call/Released)

An American Airlines aircraft arrives at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The flight, from Miami, was the first commercial airline flight since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused severe damage in and around Port-au-Prince Jan. 12. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Spike Call/Released)

Workers at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti prepare to receive an American Airlines aircraft. The flight, from Miami, was the first commercial airline flight since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused severe damage in and around Port-au-Prince Jan. 12. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Spike Call/Released)

Workers at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti prepare to receive an American Airlines aircraft. The flight, from Miami, was the first commercial airline flight since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused severe damage in and around Port-au-Prince Jan. 12. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Spike Call/Released)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- American Airlines flight 377 landed at 9:21 a.m. at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport here Feb. 19, marking the return of commercial air service to the nation following the Jan. 12 earthquake that destroyed ports of entry into the country.

"The transition to normalized operations is a huge step for the Haitian government, airport officials and the members of Operation Unified Response," said Brig. Gen. Darryl Burke, the Air Component Coordination Element director and Air Forces Southern vice commander. "The Air Force and our joint partners helped to surge airfield operations immediately following the earthquake -- and today the people of Haiti once again enjoy commercial air service into and out of their international airport."

Airmen have been working since their arrival on Jan. 13 with Haitian police and airport officials to secure the airport perimeter and entry control points. Since then, these operations have been shared responsibilities between Airmen and Haitian officials.

Air traffic controllers from Haiti returned to work earlier this month in an FAA portable tower, located on the airport infield. Inside the control tower, Haitian controllers have been directing air traffic from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. into and out of Port-au-Prince. Haitian controllers trained by the FAA and the Air Force in the new tower are soon expected to increase airport hours to 10 p.m. Air Force relief and resupply flights will transition to primarily evening and nighttime sorties to ensure commercial air traffic is able to use designated parking spots on the airport ramp.

"The Haitian air traffic controllers have been controlling air traffic here for some time now, with Airmen augmenting their staff during the evening," General Burke said. "These professionals are handling more flights per day than before the earthquake -- and we expect the normal day-to-day level of air traffic to be higher than pre-quake levels thanks to their dedication to safe and efficient operations."

Transportation Security Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, Customs and Border Patrol, U.S. State Department and Air Force officials are working with airport authorities to certify and upgrade passenger screening and processing services. Airlines such as Air France, Delta, Air Canada, Spirit and Caribair are in negotiations to re-establish passenger service into the international airport.

"Some portions of the terminal are still in need of repair," General Burke said. "But the international terminal has been certified as structurally sound and the airport authority has implemented many refurbishments to the interior so passengers enjoy a comfortable and efficient process to their flight."

"It was imperative that the Haitian government and the joint team move quickly to assist in restoring commercial air service," said Col. Dan Courtois, the 24th Air Expeditionary Group commander. "The local economy will benefit from airport service, ancillary airport businesses and increased passenger revenue, while normalized trade and commerce will benefit the entire nation."

Airmen of the 24th AEG are working at the airport to offload cargo from military and international aircraft bound for relief operations in Haiti. Since Jan. 13, Airmen from Air Force Special Operations Command, the 621st Contingency Response Group and the 24th AEG have managed the transfer of more than 15,400 short tons pounds of food, water, and supplies from more than more than 2,900 international aircraft offloaded onto the Port au Prince tarmac (stats as of Feb 19th).

In addition, as of Feb 19th, Air Force aircraft have evacuated more than 21,100 U.S. citizens and more than 295 Haitian citizens were medically evacuated to the U.S."

"By standing up airport operations starting the day after the earthquake, the U.S. Air Force opened a vital lifeline of supplies and relief for the Haitian people," U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth H. Merten said. "Day and night over the last month, thousands of medical personnel and disaster relief experts, as well as thousands of tons of food, water, medical supplies, and other equipment were quickly brought in to respond to the emergency. At the same time, the Air Force helped tens of thousands of American citizens to make their way home to the U.S. None of this would have been possible without the skill of these Airmen, but the time has come to transition operations back into the hands of the Haitian authorities."

"The real success story of this transition is how the government of Haiti managed this process and ensured the capability of their airport to operate with more traffic, more capacity and better security measures than before the earthquake," General Burke said. "This cooperative effort, only 27 days after the earthquake, is a remarkable accomplishment for the government of Haiti and the joint team working here at the airport."

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