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January 28, 2010

Texas GA Pilot Volunteers Grace Flight to Haiti

By Jay Carpenter    

Everyone learned of the plight of the citizens of Haiti following the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010. The earthquake caused major damage to Port-au-Prince, Jacmel and other settlements in the region. Many notable landmark buildings were significantly damaged or destroyed, including the Presidential Palace.

Photo:  Phil Rosenbaum lands his Pilatus PC 12 at Austin Bergstrom Intl. Airport.
Photo by J Carpenter


The citizens of the United States began pouring in donations to UNICEF and the Red Cross to help alleviate the misery being endured by Haitians. Certainly financial support is needed but just as importantly is quick action. With airline traffic closed to the island nation, many general aviation pilots volunteered to help because they could get to remote areas quickly. One such pilot is Phil Rosenbaum of Austin, Texas.

Rosenbaum owns and pilots a Pilatus PC 12 aircraft. Manufactured in Switzerland, this particular plane is famous for its efficient transport of people and cargo at a high rate of speed. Powered by a 1200 horsepower Pratt and Whitney turbo-prop engine, the PC 12 can haul over 1000 pounds with full fuel. The range is over 1500 miles and can cruise at 260 knots (300 MPH).

When Phil heard of the plight of the Haitian community, he did not hesitate to help organize a relief effort.


Working with Laura Mason, the executive director of POPA, the Pilatus Owners and Pilots Association, and members of Grace Flight, an organization dedicated to help people in need of air transportation for medical and humanitarian purposes, many doctors, medical teams, medicine and equipment were quickly delivered to the heart of the devastated areas of Haiti when hours counted.

Photo:  (L to R) Garratt Gruener (N161AJ), Phil Rosenbaum (N289PB) and medical staff ready to go!
Photo by P Rosenbaum

Initially, four Pilatus aircraft and their pilot/owners met in Houston, Texas. Joining Rosenbaum were Jack Long also of Austin, Todd Nelson from Sugarland and Garrett Gruener of Oakland, California.

Because no infrastructure or electricity existed on the Haitian island, the pilots had to figure out how and where to land. The airport at the capitol of Port-au-Prince was closed to all traffic except those aircraft with prior landing clearance. If you didn’t have an arrival slot reserved at that airport, you were not allowed to land.

Rosenbaum and his squadron diverted to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Through means that are not considered standard operating procedures, the Pilatus pilots were able to enter the Haitian airspace and land at nearby Jacmel, where the medical resources were dearly needed. The airport was secure (thanks to surrounding UN troops) but had no operating infrastructure – no tower, no lighting, no fuel, and only about 3300 feet of useable runway. Fortunately, the Pilatus aircraft are able to operate from unimproved runways even less that 3000 feet, and four experienced pilots had no issues making the delivery.

After spending a short time on the ground (just long enough to watch a Canadian C-130 arrive and depart!!!) Rosenbaum and his fellow pilots loaded up 22 displaced residents to take back to the United States.

After filing a flight plan (oddly enough using PCs with satellite connectivity operated by the missionaries), the pilots took off. At 16,000 feet Rosenbaum was able to make radio contact with Miami Center. The controllers there wanted to know where he was coming from and what he requested. Rosenbaum replied that he was coming from Haiti and needed a climb to 26,000 feet immediately. After a short pause, the air traffic control personnel gave clearance to climb to the requested altitude and a direct routing to Fort Lauderdale.

After landing in Ft. Lauderdale, customs officials interviewed the pilots and their passengers. In about 10 minutes everyone was cleared through customs.

“Let’s just say that not all the standard rules were followed,” said Rosenbaum. “In a world crisis such as the Haitian earthquake, certain procedures were overlooked. No flights such as we completed would ever be allowed during normal times. Many times we never had clearance or permission to fly where we did.


Everyone we encountered, from government officials to ground crews were extremely helpful. Our appreciation goes out to the Customs and Border Patrol, and Immigration folks at KFXE, and especially to the folks at Banyan Air Services, the FBO in Ft. Lauderdale. I cannot say enough good things about them.”

Photo:  One of many Pilatus aircraft landing at Jacmel, Haiti.
Photo by P Rosenbaum

With the combined efforts of the Pilatus Owners and Pilots Association (POPA), Grace Flight America, and The National Businesss Aircraft Association (NBAA), and the open hearts and wallets of many Pilatus owner/operators, on Monday morning Jan. 18, six Pilatus planes were in the air over Haiti, seven were on the ground in Fort Lauderdale loading for missions to Haiti, and nine more were on the way to Florida to help. In a week’s time, over 27 Pilatus aircraft were involved in relief efforts to Haiti. Through organizational skills of POPA, Grace Flight, and the National Business Aviation Association, relief flights were able to get medical personnel and supplies in a timely manner that could not be accomplished by governmental bureaucracies. “Once the roles were realized, the operations went very well,” said Rosenbaum. “When hours count, general aviation can often meet the immediate needs of the suffering.”

One might ask what the financial costs are for such a flight. Rosenbaum and his fellow Pilatus pilots were not paid to do this. “I put about 19 hours on my plane. That with the fuel, hotels, food and other considerations, I’m estimating my out of pocket costs run somewhere between $15,000 to 20,000. Yes, that’s a lot of money, but we all received a warm feeling knowing we were able to help so many so quickly.”

Photo:  After landing in Austin, Phil relays his story to TXAA.
Photo by J Carpenter


Rosenbaum added that many around the world hate the Americans for political reasons. “However, as so often is the case, look to see who is first to lend aid when it is really needed.”


For more photos of Phil’s flight visit:


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