* Haiti signs memorandum with U.S. govt
* Teams in place to prioritize relief, flights
* U.S. says no fuel at airport, some flights diverted
(updates with handover agreement, details on airport plan)
By Andrew Quinn and John Crawley
WASHINGTON, Jan 15 Haiti gave the United States
control of its main airport on Friday to bring order in the
skies to aid flights from around the world and speed relief to
the quake-traumatized Caribbean nation, the Obama
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told
reporters that Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive signed
a memorandum of understanding formally transferring operations
at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in
"Obviously we will assume this responsibility as long as
it's appropriate and to the point where the Haitian government
is able and ready to resume that capability," Crowley said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was due to visit
Haiti on Saturday.
The modest airport became a bottleneck almost immediately
after Tuesday's devastation as the world rushed help to the
impoverished nation. Regional authorities believe as many as
200,000 people were killed in the quake.
Waves of military and civilian planes loaded with food and
water, medicine, and rescue crews poured into the small Haitian
air space but many flights circled for hours before landing or
While a 9,000-foot runway can handle the biggest jetliners
arriving "heavy" with cargo and the tarmac escaped serious
damage, the Port-au-Prince airport was compromised by a
severely damaged control tower and limited facilities for
dealing with the relief effort.
The U.S. Air Force landed on Wednesday and immediately
worked with Haitian authorities and a team from the Federal
Aviation Administration to restore navigation and
communications capabilities. They also sorted planes on the
ground and began to organize arrivals.
But Haitian air space remained off limits through Friday to
many flights approaching from overseas with little notice. Some
planes bound for Haiti were diverted to the Dominican Republic
and airports in Florida, the FAA said.
Aviation authorities were concerned that long approach
delays could jeopardize onboard fuel supplies. Further
complicating matters, the Port-au-Prince airport ran out of
fuel, meaning any planes that landed would not be able to
refuel for departure.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States, and
countries including Brazil, Mexico, Canada, France, Colombia,
Russia, Japan, and Britain managed to fly in rescue and
logistics personnel and supplies. While some aid was getting
in, the White House hoped improved logistics would streamline
and accelerate the effort.
On Friday night, a ban was lifted on most flights heading
for saturated Haitian air space. It was replaced by a two-tier
approach for managing traffic that was worked out by
international aviation authorities and Caribbean states.
Working with Haitian authorities, a team of U.S. military
and civilian aviation experts began prioritizing arriving
flights based on what was needed most on the ground.
A second team based at a U.S. military facility in Florida
lined up airborne flights for arrival. Pilots are required to
file a flight plan before departure and obtain a landing time.
The window is open for 40 minutes - 20 minutes before scheduled
arrival and 20 minutes after, an FAA advisory said.
Commercial flights have been banned since Tuesday. U.S.
carriers serving Haiti include American Airlines and Spirit
Airlines. American had been scheduled to fly in relief
(Reporting by Andrew Quinn and John Crawley; Editing by
Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)