Haiti's international airport, a key economic lifeline for the poorest country in the Americas, will reopen to major commercial airlines on Friday for the first time since a massive earthquake destroyed its control tower, a US military official said.
American Airlines will begin flying to Port-au-Prince on February 19, with Air Canada and Air France to follow shortly after, Brigadier General Darryl Burke, vice commander of Air Forces Southern said.
The airport was turned over almost entirely to disaster relief and military flights after the January 12 earthquake, which destroyed hundreds of buildings in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and killed 212,000 people.
The quake caused serious damage to the airport's terminal. Crews have repaired airport lighting and the part of the terminal that the airlines will use, Burke said.
"On the 19th American Airlines will resume operations in the west portion of the terminal," Burke said. "Structural engineers have checked out the terminal to make sure it's safe and it is safe to operate out of, and they're ready to go."
Air traffic control responsibilities, which were assumed by the US military following the quake, are slowly being turned over to Haitian controllers. They are currently directing flights from 6 am to 3 pm and will expand those hours from 6 am to 10 pm on February 19, Burke said.
Haiti's feeble economy was brought to a standstill by the quake, which left 1 million people homeless and living on the streets.
"This is a chance for them to generate revenue. This is how airports make money," Burke said.
At the peak of the disaster the airport had a capacity of 120 landings of military and relief aircraft daily. Those flights have dwindled to an average of about 70 daily in recent days, Burke said.
The airfield is being run from a portable control tower brought to Haiti by the US Federal Aviation Administration.