US halts civilian flights to Haiti for 8 hours |

US halts civilian flights to Haiti for 8 hours

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Federal Aviation Administration halted all civilian flights to Haiti for nearly eight hours Thursday while some aircraft spent hours circling awaiting permission to land at an already crowded airport that lacked sufficient supplies for refueling.

The ground hold lasted from just before noon to just after 7:30 p.m. EST, according to the FAA Web site. However, the agency warned that flights could still expect delays of as many as three hours and possible diversions.

Planes seeking to land at the Port-au-Prince airport were kept circling two hours or more Thursday, and some flights were diverted to Santa Domingo while others were sent back to Florida.

The Haitian government requested the ground hold, reporting 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 resumed Thursday afternoon. When the hold went into effect, 11 flights were circling. By 4 p.m., that number was down to four flights.

Pilots reported to the FAA that 10 to 12 aircraft were parked on the ramp at the Port-au-Prince airport and another 20 aircraft were 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 have been 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.

Associated Press writers Lisa Orkin in Miami and Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla., contributed to this report.