In coordination with and at the request of Ecuadorean authorities and the U.S. Agency for for International Development (USAID) Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the U.S. Department of Defense deployed 12 U.S. Air Force (USAF) airmen to support the ongoing international relief effort by assessing damage and installing a mobile air traffic control (ATC) tower at the Eloy Alfaro international airport in the city of Manta. This action was taken after the airport’s air traffic control tower, much like 7,000 other buildings in the country, collapsed as a result of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador on April 16th, killing more than 650 people and leaving more than 16,000 wounded.
Manta is the primary logistical center for the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the affected areas. The control tower at the Manta airport was totally destroyed on the night of the earthquake, and for the following days the airport was limited to receiving only flights with humanitarian aid coming in on military planes from other countries. Eventually, local authorities were able to open the airport to commercial flights, using a radio system operated from a truck stationed near the runway, but that equipment was severely limiting. The ATC tower installed by USAF airmen on April 26th has allowed for regular flight schedules to resume, helping local controllers increase the flow of humanitarian aid entering the country.
The ATC deployed by the U.S. military is designed to rapidly establish air transport services in adverse conditions in order to support the movement of aircraft inside and outside the aviation areas. The mobile air traffic control system provides portable radio communications equipment that is durable and modular, as well as air traffic services. The ATC can rise to a height equivalent to three stories, in the event that it is necessary to monitor the runway, and it can be configured to be fully operational in 90 minutes. The mobile structure and equipment allows for control over areas with high levels of air traffic and increases the safety of the operations in Manta.
“The control tower brought by the Americans is mobile, for emergency purposes. However, it allows us to establish the communications needed to maintain control over the operations,” Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mauro Bedoya Avilés, the commander of Combat Wing No. 23 of the Ecuadorean Air Force (FAE), said in an interview with Diálogo .
“The tower was installed yesterday afternoon [April 26th] and today they are calibrating the equipment, [which is] essential to enable commercial flights,” said Lt. Col. Bedoya, adding that “[the Americans] are sending personnel to repair the radar and air traffic control equipment, which is out of service at this time.”
In addition to the team of four people that arrived on April 26th to install the mobile ATC, the U.S. deployment included an eight-man evaluation team that arrived in Manta on April 22nd to help assess the damage to the airfield and identify the needed repairs.
The ATC arrived in Ecuador aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 with five vehicles on board and the necessary equipment for the installation of the tower.
Moments after the earthquake in Ecuador, the White House announced that President Barack Obama had called his Ecuadorean counterpart, Rafael Correa, "to express his condolences and those of the American people for the loss of lives due to the earthquake.”
During the conversation, President Obama “assured President Correa that the United States will do everything it can to provide support for the reconstruction of Ecuador.” President Correa thanked the American people for their assistance at this difficult time,” the White House said in a note.
The United States on April 18th announced the dispatch of a team of disaster experts to help Ecuador in the relief efforts. “The government of Ecuador has accepted the U.S. offer of help in the disaster relief efforts,” said a USAID official, who added that experts will collaborate with the government in assessing damage and identifying the humanitarian needs, while providing an analysis of the situation on the ground.
The official said a support group would also work with the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (UNDAC) which is helping Ecuador to coordinate the efforts of the international rescue teams. Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States was “ready to help in any way we can.”
The United States supports the efforts of the Ecuadorean government to expand its operational capabilities so that the supply of humanitarian assistance to the affected areas can be maintained and increase. The government of Ecuador expects an increase in air cargo traffic and aims to support the humanitarian response efforts in the affected areas.
The United States has a long history of helping countries across the world that suffer from natural disasters, such as in Ecuador, and it does so in coordination with USAID/OFDA. One of the requirements is that help must be requested by the host country.