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Transition to return tower to Haitian controllers begins

by Tech. Sgt. Larry W. Carpenter Jr.
Joint Task Force-Port Operations Public Affairs

2/16/2010 - PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AFNS) -- Air Force air traffic controllers worked side-by-side with Haitian air traffic controllers to provide some sense of normalcy two weeks after the earthquake devastated vast portions of Port-au-Prince.

Since Feb. 1, Haitian controllers worked with American military controllers to ensure the safety of the airfield and the planes in the sky.

"Our goal is to make (the Haitian controllers) comfortable and actually have them take over the control tower," said Chief Master Sgt. Tim Sowder, an air traffic controller assigned to the 260th Air Traffic Control Squadron.

This is the second transition Air Force air traffic controllers have made since taking over ATC responsibilities from combat controllers from the Air Force Special Operations Command.

With the local tower in disrepair, there was a need to get a more permanent structure at the airport for the controllers to work in.

The Federal Aviation Administration officials set up a mobile air traffic control tower on the airfield to provide the operators with a safer and more comfortable platform to work from. Before the arrival of the FAA tower, combat controllers were landing aircraft from a dirt berm on the airfield with equipment stacked on a table.

The Haitians working with the U.S. forces is the beginning of a process to eventually have ATC operations completely turned over to the Haitians and airport authorities.

"The biggest benefit is to be able to familiarize the Haitians in the tower that they will be using until their new tower is built," Chief Sowder said.

So far, it has been a smooth transition and the integration of the two styles of air traffic control has gone rather seamlessly.

The Haitian controllers are very good, but it will take some time for them to get accustomed to dealing with a much higher volume of air traffic than they were used to, Chief Sowder said.

"It's a good experience for me to work in this kind of situation because I experience much more traffic than before," said Nadia Adma, a Haitian air traffic controller. "It's good to work with different people from different countries because you learn the differences in controlling traffic."

Prior to the earthquake, the Haitians ran the airport as a nonradar facility, where aircraft were controlled one at a time by one controller. The new way of operating may require an additional body in the tower to perform ground operation responsibilities.

"If they bring in someone to perform ground control, then they will ensure that they are properly trained," Ms. Adma said.

The transition should be rather smooth because the equipment is much the same as what they were using before, Ms. Adma said.

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