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American Resumes Flights to Haiti Amid Violent Civil Unrest

Pilots union boss makes first return flight to Haiti assessing the safety risk.

An American 737-800 aircraft (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

American Airlines resumed flights to Haiti’s Port-au-Prince airport on Thursday after a long hiatus due to civil unrest in the Caribbean country, and contingency plans are in place to move pilots and crew members to safety by armored vehicles if conditions worsen.

This comes after Haiti has undergone violent and deadly civil unrest since armed gangs organized a mass prison break in early March and later ousted the country’s former president. The capital’s airport was closed for nearly three months during the chaos.

Two American missionaries were killed during the violence on May 23. The victims were Davy and Natalie Lloyd, a young married couple working for the ministry Missions for Haiti. Natalie is the daughter of Missouri state Rep. Ben Baker. Davy grew up in Haiti and was actively involved with his family’s ministry efforts there.

In a letter addressing union members on Thursday, Ed Sicher, president of the Allied Pilots Association (APA) which represents American Airlines pilots, said that he personally chose to fly to the country after it reopened to commercial air traffic on May 17 to observe the situation for crew members firsthand.

“I chose to fly the first flight (AA819) back to Port-au-Prince, Haiti (PAP) today after a long hiatus due to civil unrest,” Sicher stated in the letter. “My objectives were to observe firsthand what our crews can expect to encounter, verify that the security protocols and precautions in place are sufficient, and gauge whether it is reasonably safe. I would never condone flying to a location unless I’m personally comfortable doing so.”

Sicher said that Haitian national carrier Sunrise Airways has operated since May 20 without incident. He also said that U.S. authorities have also operated over 50 charter and cargo flights into and out of  the airport during the past three weeks, also without incident.

“Still, I didn’t consider those facts alone to be adequate assurance that a U.S. flag-carrying airline can operate safely there,” Sicher said. “American Airlines Corporate Security – in concert with the U.S. State Department and the U.S. military – has enacted a series of security measures in preparation for the resumption of service.”

Sicher said that crews flying to Haiti will likely notice increased security at the airport. New guard towers have been built along the northern perimeter wall, and the U.S. military is operating several C-17 flights in and out of the airport daily on the eastern side of the field. He notes that many squatter houses along the northern perimeter where gangs had taken up residence have been destroyed.

“U.S. security forces are aiding the Haitian National Police to secure the perimeter and ensure the roads between Port-au-Prince and the airport are safe,” Sicher continued. “I have emphasized that we must collectively do everything in our power to avoid stranding crews in Haiti. American Airlines has established contingency plans addressing maintenance issues, [other airline] transport, rescue flights, and as a last resort, secure transportation in armored vehicles to secure lodging where the U.S. military and UN forces stay.”

Additionally, Sicher added that the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince has a Regional Security Office located near the airport. The embassy has expedited the deployment of the United Nations-authorized Multinational Security Support mission, which is located on the east side of the airfield.

“I personally worked with some of these same individuals when I served in the military and participated in counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean and consider them much mor trustworthy than the Haitian National Police,” Sicher said.

American Airlines crew members going to Haiti are advised by Sicher to stay focused and alert. He said that APA will continue to monitor the situation daily and inform its members if conditions worsen.

The Fort Worth-based carrier is the only major U.S. airline to serve Port-au-Prince. JetBlue and Spirit also halted their services to the region.

AirlineGeeks.com Staff

Author

  • Caleb Revill

    Caleb Revill is a journalist, writer and lifelong learner working as a Junior Writer for Firecrown. When he isn't tackling breaking news, Caleb is on the lookout for fascinating feature stories. Every person has a story to tell, and Caleb wants to help share them! He can be contacted by email anytime at [email protected].

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