FAA Halts All Civilian Flights to Haiti

The Federal Aviation Administration halted all civilian flights to Haiti on Thursday after some flights spent hours circling while awaiting permission to land at an already crowded airport that lacked sufficient supplies for refueling.

FAA has extended its ground hold on civilian aid flights to Haiti until at least 8 p.m. EST Thursday, according to advisories posted on FAA's Web site. Planes seeking to land at the Port-au-Prince airport were being kept circling two hours or more, and some flights were being diverted to Santa Domingo and others sent back to Florida.

The FAA halted flights at 11:50 a.m. EST at the request of the Haitian government, which said there was no more room on ramps for planes to unload their cargo and that some planes on the ground at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport didn't have enough fuel to leave.

Military officials said government aid flights to Haiti were resumed Thursday afternoon. Civilian aid flights that were in the air before the ground stop continued to land throughout the day, but they often had to circle the Port-au-Prince airport for as long as two hours, the official said.

Several aid flights were diverted to Santa Domingo and later sent back to the United States, according to advisories posted online by the FAA.

There were 11 flights circling when the ground stop went into effect. By 4 p.m., that number was down to four flights, the official said.

Pilots reported to FAA that there were 10 to 12 aircraft parked on the ramp at the Port-au-Prince airport and another 20 aircraft parked on grass and surrounding areas, according to one advisory.

Special tactics officers from Hurlburt Field Air Force Special Operations Command in Florida said their teams are in control of operations at the Haitian airport.

Lt. Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for the command, said airmen have cleared runways, established 24-hour air traffic control and have weather systems and airport lighting up and running. He said dozens of cargo planes were taking off and landing Thursday, but damage to ramps was slowing efforts to remove cargo from the planes.

The Air Force was working to bring in fork lifts and other heavy equipment to help move cargo.