By Frank James

Air Force airfield unit.

Airmen from Joint Base McGwire-Dix-Lakehurst in New jersey board a cargo plane to Haiti. Their unit has brought order to the Port-au-Prince airport. (Charles Russell / U.S. Air Force Photo)

Haiti and the international community trying to get aid into the earthquake-crippled country evidently have the U.S. Air Force to thank for the Port-au-Prince Airport being once again opened to flights ferrying relief workers and aid.

The Wall Street Journal reports that there's an Air Force unit whose specific job it is to get critical airports with operational problems up and running. It obviously makes sense that the Air Force would have such expertise.

What doesn't make sense, to the unit's commander, is that they weren't put on the ground in Haiti sooner.

An excerpt:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The U.S. Air Force on Friday began to bring order to the chaotic airport in the capital of this earthquake-ravaged nation a day after authorities were forced to turn away aid flights when the large influx of aircraft overwhelmed the facility's small tarmac.
By daybreak, a 115-person Air Force team, which flew in five C-17 cargo planes of communications and air-traffic management equipment overnight, had undone most of the logjam. A hodgepodge group of fewer than a dozen planes were still lined up along the airport's concourse.
A steady stream of flights arrived and departed without difficulty even during the pre-dawn hours, the first time the airport was able to accept nighttime flights since the quake.
Despite the progress, members of the Air Force team -- the 621st Contingency Response Wing, one of two Air Force units specifically designed to open distressed airstrips -- expressed frustration that they had not been sent earlier to manage the flow of aid into the airport, saying Thursday's flight freeze may have been avoided.
"We would have liked to have been there a little bit sooner to unclog the airfield," said Col. Brian O'Connor, the wing's commander. "It makes me cringe, it's so disorderly."

That quote may not play well with the people who were running things who, the story tells us, weren't Haitians but other U.S. Air Force members, a special operations team which was at the airport only hours after the earthquake.

Another snippet:

Air-traffic control at the airport was taken over by an Air Force Special Operations team just hours after the quake, but the small group became overwhelmed by the traffic, officers said.
"When we got here, there wasn't an empty spot on the" tarmac, said Col. Hollrah, who arrived Thursday night. "No one was in control of anything."

I'm guessing these sorts of comments aren't making the special ops guys feel so special.

categories: Accidents and Disasters

12:38 - January 15, 2010