19 January 2010

More on Haiti

I apologize that I haven't had time to post anything but roundups of links in the past few days. My post quality will improve in a few days. For now, though, I'm just going to have to settle for a quick roundup of some of the more interesting articles surrounding the Haitian Earthquake and the world's response.

Jamie McIntyre at the Line of Departure asks a simple question about the US military's effort in Haiti: Where are the V-22 Ospreys? The fine writers at the US Naval Institute mused over the possibility of seeing the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in action in Haiti last week. This sort of mission seems to be tailor-made for the V-22; the ability to fly farther and faster than a fixed-wing aircraft, and land anywhere other than the crowded runway at Port-au-Prince Airport would be incredibly valuable in a situation such as this. Yet, as far as I've seen, the V-22 has not come into play. Any Osprey pilots know differently? Have some pictures, video, or stories to share? Please don't hesitate to reply.

As an aviator, I used to pay scant attention to the "loggies", a less-than-affectionate term used for logisticians. However, after seeing the challenges in moving men and material thousands of miles, I suddenly realize that the old loggie cliches really are true. Indeed, the old catch-phrases "Nothing happens without logistics" and "Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics" ring all too true in the case of Haiti.

The difficulties of moving medical supplies, clean water, food, fuel, rescue workers and security is immense. Lt. Gen. Ken Keene, the commander of the US relief effort in Haiti, touched on many of the challenges the international community is facing in moving vital supplies and services into Haiti during a conference call with Spencer Ackerman. Some of the key excerpts mentioned by the Attackerman:

Take the airport. Yes, airport, singular. Haiti has a single airport, with just one runway and one taxiway. Before the quake it managed 13 flights daily. But maintaining that pace is a death sentence for Haitians in need of water, food, shelter, medical care and other necessities. So Haitian President Preval authorized the U.S. Air Force to control the so-called “slot times” for letting planes land and then depart, which the airmen set at two hours per plane. That means planes have to be back in the air after two hours’ wheels-down to unload their cargo and refuel if necessary. The pace has meant over 100 planes went through Haiti on Sunday with no delays, Keen said, the first time in six days the airport hasn’t reported a delay. But the rapid turnaround also meant a mobile hospital had to get back in the air — a major problem, and one Keen sounded frustrated about.

The quake seriously damaged Haiti’s major seaport. Keen sent divers into the port, which he called South Port, and found “we do have some separations [between] the pylons and the pier.” He estimated it would be at least the end of the week before the port could be opened, something he called “absolutely critical” to move cargo in and take pressure off the airport.

It’s a tense moment. Keen was proud of delivering 233,000 bottles of water to civilians on Sunday, but said it was “nearly not enough,” considering there are an estimated 3.5 million Haitians — nearly a quarter of the population — suffering from the quake. A more sustainable solution for hydration is on its way: 16 water purification units are being shipped to get people off of bottled water. The USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier with 19 helicopters, is just offshore, and the hospital ship Comfort will arrive later this week. In the next several weeks, Keen said his military contingent will grow to about 10,000, with half kept offshore to minimize the logistical needs — food, water, shelter — that go along with large-scale deployments.

Not to nitpick, but Haiti actually has more than just one airport. However, the airport at Port-au-Prince is the largest, and, as near as I can tell, likely the only one capable of handling C-17s, Boeing 747s, and other large cargo jets. The runway and approach lights have apparently been knocked out, and I doubt the instrument approaches (save for the GPS approaches) are operational. Nevertheless, it's likely the only airport that's in any shape to handle air traffic, so it's likely the only operational airport.

Indeed, searching through the NOTAMs--Notices to Airmen--as well as checking some of the news sources, it appears that Jacmel Airfield (Google Maps) will open in the next few days. It's not much, only 4,000 feet long, but it should be able to accomodate C-130s and smaller cargo planes. Another airfield that might be a possibility is Cap Haitien Airport (Google Map), with a 4,800-foot runway. Judging by the NOTAMs, this airport appears to not be closed (although the ground truth might be incredibly different). Also worth noting is that the notices to airmen states that any aircraft arriving in either of the two largest airports in Haiti (Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien) should have enough fuel to enter a 90-minute holding pattern over Port-au-Prince, likely due to the backlog of aircraft on the small airfield.

The backlog is exacerbated by yet another logistical hurdle at Port-au-Prince. Fuel tankers and ground handling equipment, such as forklifts to offload cargo from planes, are in short supply in Haiti (USNI, Washington Post reports). US Air Force loadmasters might be tough, but they can't carry around tons of cargo by themselves. They need forklifts to move that cargo around. Fortunately, future flights are likely to bring additional forklifts. It is also expected to be a week before the sea port is fully operational. The service men participating in this have their work cut out for them.

Finally, I'll conclude with some pragmatic advice for rescuers. All this help--the food drops, the Air Force air traffic controllers--needs to be broadcasted to the world. While Matt Armstrong--MountainRunner as you may know him--found it distressing that the Chinese could send one plane filled with rescue workers overnight, fear not, all that coverage is not in vain.

I think the whole world is impressed when they see Americans send more than one simple passenger jet into the fray. In just the past week, the world has seen the US drop food from military planes and helicopters, launch an entire fleet from thousands of miles away, repair the ports and airport, provide air traffic services for planes the world over, and send literally thousands of peacekeeping troops in a matter of days. Sure, the armchair generals of the world will always bicker about how it could have been done better, but make no mistake that no country in the world could match the US' response. As one of my European fans pointed out, once again, it's the US to the rescue while Europe deliberates.

*--by the way, Air Force (C-17s especially)...no spending the night in Orlando (KSFB) unless your crew duty day is exceeded. No kidding, I pulled that right from the NOTAMs. Seriously, they actually had to say that in the NOTAMS?

I should tread lightly, though, as I owe a belated hat tip to a certain C-17 pilot for the link I used in my last post :)

1 comment:

David Ucko said...

From Aerospace Daily & Defense Report:

The U.S. Marine Corps is sending about a dozen tiltrotor MV-22 Ospreys to Haiti aboard the USS Nassau (LHA 4) to help with the earthquake relief effort.

More in today's Early Bird.