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Air Traffic Over Haiti Is Crowded, Chaotic

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Air Traffic Over Haiti Is Crowded, Chaotic

Latin America

Air Traffic Over Haiti Is Crowded, Chaotic

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And lets talk about some of the people helping those aid groups to land hourly. The airport, which was handling only emergency flights, was so crowded yesterday that planes sometimes had nowhere to land.

NPRs Adam Hochberg has more.

ADAM HOCHBERG: The Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince is one of Haitis few remaining lifelines to the rest of the world. Since Wednesday, it's been struggling to accommodate planes filled with supplies, relief workers and volunteers - but it has been doing so under the most primitive conditions. There is no electricity, the air traffic control system is down, and pilots who have been using the airport say damage there is severe.

Mr. RICK HALLQUIST (Pilot, Missionary Flights International): Its beyond anything I have ever seen.

HOCHBERG: Rick Hallquist is a pilot for Missionary Flights International, a Christian relief organization based in Florida. For the past few days, he has been flying DC-3s into Port-au-Prince, shuttling in volunteers and supplies to an airport thats barely usable.

Mr. HALLQUIST: The tower is still standing, structurally, but the windows are blown out, so I'm sure there's anybody operating up there. Besides that, the airport terminal building is pretty compromised. There's a lot of cracks in the walls. There's people working inside but they're pretty much trying to limit their exposure inside the building.

HOCHBERG: Meanwhile, so many aircraft were trying to get into Haiti with aid supplies yesterday, that the single-runway airport was overwhelmed and the Federal Aviation Administration halted most flights from the U.S. into Port-au-Prince.

Throughout the day, military and civilian aircraft were packed side by side on the tarmac as crews unloaded tons of supplies. Other planes were parked on the grass, and at one point, about a dozen more circled overhead because there was no place to put them if they were to land.

Barry Ellis runs a charter service called Hop-A-Jet that's been flying doctors in from Miami. He says the situation was chaotic and sometimes exasperating.

Mr. BARRY ELLIS (Hop-A-Jet): Everybody that's trying to go in there, rightfully so, believes that they should have priority. Some airplanes have blood on board, they have doctors on board. So, it's initially very frustrating to a lot of the airplane, and therefore creates a hectic situation trying to get in there.

HOCHBERG: U.S. authorities scrambled yesterday, to try to get conditions a bit more under control. The Air Force established a temporary air traffic control center. The FAA is sending a team of airport safety experts to Port-au-Prince, but even they were having a hard time getting a flight in.

Rajiv Shah, who's coordinating the U.S. government's relief efforts, said restoring normal airport operations is a high priority.

Mr. RAJIV SHAH: We're maximizing our ability to get planes in there, to unload them, and to move them forward. There are going to be times when things do get jammed up there, but we're moving them as fast as we possibly can.

HOCHBERG: Commercial airlines that serve Haiti - American, Delta, Spirit and others - have suspended all their flights. Though some are flying aid workers into the country, no one is speculating about when the airport might be in good enough shape for regular passenger service to resume.

Meanwhile, there are few other options to get people and supplies in and out of the country. The seaport in Port-au-Prince lies in ruins; highways are strewn with debris. And even for those willing to try to drive them, there's a shortage of fuel.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

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