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January 19, 2010
By Alton K. Marsh
The Dominican Republic’s private pilot community has set up a command center at Santo Domingo’s main airport to aid Haiti rescue flights. Led by pilots of the civilian Local Marine Auxiliary, they work with the United Nations and the Dominican Civil Aviation Institute to coordinate 200 flights a day at La Isabela International (Dr. Joaquin Balaguer International) Airport (MDBJ).
This is the same group of civilian pilots that spurred an effort over the past four years—seen most recently at the AOPA Aviation Summit in Tampa, Fla.—to encourage American pilots to fly to their country as tourists.
You can hear MDBJ controllers online. The link is frequently down, so you may need to try every few hours to hear rescue flights arriving and departing.
The airport has served as an aerial support bridge to Haiti since the first day of the earthquake. On the first and second day, more than 30 Dominican helicopters and fixed wing aircraft flew rescue and support missions to Haiti from MDJB.
All night on the first day the team of civilian pilots, Dominican Republic officials, and U.N. officials put together 5,000 life-saving food packs with the help of military and civilian volunteers. The packs were dropped from helicopters on the second day.
Several news crews including CNN’s Anderson Cooper, rescue teams, and rescued foreign government officials including ambassadors were put on airplanes and helicopters at MDBJ by the team. Notams for the airport can be found online .
The FAA, U.N., and U.S. military have taken control of Haitian airspace and are using the Dominican Republic airports in coordination with the Marine Auxiliary, the Dominican Civil Aviation Institute, the U.N., and local authorities to accommodate all traffic to Haiti. Main airports in use are: MDBJ, Las Americas (MDSD), Barahona, Santiago, and Cabo Rojo.
Now the team is in Jimani on the Haitian border setting up yet another close-operation center to help coordinate aerial operations from the Dominican Republic.
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.
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