Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Jilbert Ebrahimi
Airspace Safety At Risk After Attempted Kidnapping of Air Traffic Controllers in Haiti
Over the weekend, an attempted kidnapping of three air traffic controllers took place near Port-au-Prince-Toussaint Louverture International Airport. The attack is raising concerns about the safety of the country’s airspace.
In a statement posted on its website, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Association said it is “gravely concerned” following the armed attack, which took place Saturday afternoon near the country’s international airport. The independent professional organization, which is based in Montreal, represents more than 50,000 air traffic controllers in 133 countries.
IFATCA shares details of the attack taking place during the employees’ commute to work. The incident left one air traffic controller with a gunshot wound to the right leg and in need of surgery.
Minimal Communication With Local Officials
The statement also attests to the possible use of former air traffic controllers that are “not qualified, rated, licensed, or certified to work” by Haiti’s National Office of Civil Aviation.
“I get that they don’t know what to do to keep their air traffic controllers safe. But we don’t believe the answer is to just find people who have just never been air traffic controllers or were air traffic controllers 10 years ago and plug them in and have them move airplanes,” said Trish Gilbert, executive vice president for the Americas region of the air traffic controllers’ group. “There has to be a better plan than that.”
The communication lapse
According to the Miami Herald, Gilbert said she planned to meet with Dominican officials about the concerns. The country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has regular flights to Port-au-Prince.
She had not yet spoken to the Federal Aviation Administration, which responded to a Miami Herald inquiry by directing the reporter to the State Department’s Level 4 travel advisory and an advisory website for pilots. U.S. carriers American Airlines, Jetblue, and Spirit all have regular flights to Haiti.
Gilbert said the association has made attempts to reach out to Haiti’s civil aviation authority to discuss options, including a potential shift toward a skeletal crew or limiting air traffic to only humanitarian or flights deemed essential. There has been no response.
Requests to National Office of Civil Aviation
The federation “asked the National Office of Civil Aviation (OFNAC) for their immediate and thorough attention to the significant matters involving the safety and security of air traffic control professionals and subsequently the aviation system in Haiti,” the organization said in its statement. “Unfortunately, to date IFATCA has received no response from OFNAC.”
A source with knowledge of the incident but not authorized to speak told the Herald that there are active duty traffic controllers currently at work and armored vehicles will be available to protect them. Housing the controllers near the airport is another aspect of the solution; an effort to limit their travel time to work. Plans to provide the injured air traffic controller and the others with psychological evaluations are also in the works, the source said.
The safety of Haiti’s airspace is the latest in a list of issues being raised about the country, which is undergoing one of its worst humanitarian, security, economic, and political crises in decades.
The international air traffic controllers’ group said while it acknowledges the ongoing difficulties in Haiti, more must be done to protect civil aviation workers. “The health and well-being of this essential workforce is of the utmost concern to us,” the organization said.