When a major disaster occurs, the world rightly leaps to respond as fast as possible. Owing to their speed, aircraft are usually designated to carry in the first wave of relief supplies and personnel, with the much greater capacity of sealift following up in the days afterward. For example, Canada has sent strat- and tac-lifters full of relief supplies, light utility helicopters and personnel to beleaguered Haiti.
But what happens when local air traffic control services are also out of action?
The earthquake that devastated Haiti also rendered its highest-capacity aerodrome (Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport [MTPP]) unservicable by causing severe damage to its control tower. Aircraft enroute to Haiti were diverted to other airfields within the region, and, as usual, the United States stepped up to conduct the initial damage assessment and air traffic control triage.
Initial assessments of damage were made in overflights by a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion.
…A member of the U.S. State Dept. Haiti Task Force said the U.S. Coast Guard was operating flights into the airport that were controlled from a USCG cutter operating in the bay outside the city. A U.S. government team was expected to arrive later on Wednesday to begin air traffic control in place of the tower.
— Ott, James. “U.S. Provides ATC Support To Haiti.” Aviation Week, 14 January 2010. [Emphasis mine]
UPDATE 140100Z JAN 2010: USAF has taken over air traffic control duties with the arrival of AFSOC units—23d Special Tactics Squadron (23 STS), 720th Special Tactics Group (720 STG). They are focusing on ATC and airfield services, medical support, and weather observation/forecasting. More details are available through the DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable recorded yesterday (and embedded below).