World's largest airlifter moves mobile air traffic control tower to Haiti
The Federal Aviation Administration load the mobile air traffic control tower aboard an Antonov An-124 at Homestead ARB en route to Hait on Jan.21. The tower will be used to help improve proficiency of aircraft flying in and out of Haiti.; (U.S. Air Force photo/Tim Norton)
Russian plane helps U.S. move mobile air traffic control tower to Haiti

by Tech. Sgt. Brian Bahret
Joint Information Bureau Homestead

1/22/2010 - HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE -- In a true demonstration of the international support of the relief efforts in Haiti, U.S. Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration officials paired with a Russian airlift contractor Jan. 21 to deliver a mobile air traffic control tower to the Port-au-Prince airport.

The mobile tower will stay in place until a permanent facility can be built, according to the FAA.

The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti Jan. 12 severely damaged the Port-au-Prince airport's air control facility. According to news releases, the multi-national effort to provide support and supplies quickly inadvertently compounded the problem. As a result, many aircraft containing supplies or aid workers were delayed or diverted to other airports.

Haiti's government asked the U.S. government to help solve the problem. In response, the FAA produced a mobile control tower used for relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to Angus "Buddy" Wall, FAA Miami Technical Support Center manager.

The 44-foot mobile facility features a design similar to a fifth-wheel trailer that can be towed by a truck. Standing 13 feet high and 8 feet wide, it contains all the equipment necessary to fully coordinate the international inflow of relief workers and supplies, Mr. Wall said.

"By installing this air traffic control tower, not only do we give controllers a place to operate, but we establish communications with these other air traffic organizations," he said. "So we can coordinate planes taking off from everywhere from Juno, Alaska, to Madrid, Spain, to Russia, to England."

With improved communications, aircraft will flow in and out much more efficiently, he added.

The challenge was delivering the tower to Haiti. Mr. Wall said the mobile tower has never been outside the United States.

According to Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Mark Visco, 512th Airlift Control Flight, Dover Air Force Base, Del., deployed to Homestead ARB, U.S. Southern Command coordinated for the FAA equipment and the aircraft to use Homestead as the loading point.

Because of the timing involved, the Air Force contracted the Voronezh, Russia-based, Polet Airlines Cargo charter services to move the equipment.

Equipped with the world's largest cargo aircraft, the Antonov An-124, Polet Airlines arrived at Homestead ARB, Jan. 21. Reservists from Homestead ARB and a 100-person team deployed to Florida from the 512th ALCF, helped positing the equipment on the flightline and assisted the Russian crew in loading the aircraft.

Mikhail Trapeznikov, An-124 flight manager and radio operator, said he and his team are proud to be a part of this mission.

After seeing the toll the earthquake took on Haiti and his team's experience, Polet airlines quickly accepted the request to work with the Air Force and help deliver the FAA's mobile tower.

"We've done a lot of (humanitarian) missions," he said. "It's nice to be a part of it."

In addition to the Air Force and Polet, other organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the FBI also contributed to the effort, according to Mr. Wall.

He said it will take about 48 hours for the mobile air traffic control tower to become fully operational. Five FAA technicians will remain with the tower until it's no longer needed. (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)