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The little airfield with big ambitions Add to ...

The hoards of air planes that descended on Jacmel's tiny and understaffed airport in the days after the earthquake temporarily transformed the tiny hub into an accidental international port. Before the quake, about two air craft landed here each week, according to local airport manager Bassan Lumumba Pierre. Overnight, that number skyrocketed to 80 per day. Now things have settled down to a daily average of 20 to 40 per day.

Nearly two months later, it's a number Mr. Pierre hopes to keep up. Although Canada's military assumed control of the airport to help smooth mess of aid and military planes landing after the earthquake, Mr. Pierre has embraced the situation as an opportunity for him and his staff to learn what it takes to operate a professional, international airport, however tiny.

"We need to seize the opportunity," he told me on a recent tour of the airfield. "When bad things happen, it can create good things," he said.

As Mr. Pierre sees it, the airport is the gateway to Jacmel of the future. And it's the city's only real hope for a meaningful increase in tourism to the area.

"In Jacmel, the aim is to bring tourism in by having a nice airport," he said.

Mr. Pierre has a grand vision to set the stage for that, including extending the 3,300-foot runway to 5,000 or 6,000 feet - a distance long enough to land passenger jets, which can only touch down right now in Port-au-Prince. His staff has been training daily in firefighting, first aid and runway marshaling to increase their professionalism.

What they need next, he told me, is money. Investment in the air field, whether by government or an international organization, is going to make or break its future - and by extension, the future of Jacmel.

 

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