"We expect one or two flights in tomorrow," says Air Force Col. A. Ray Myers, head of the airfield command in Iraq. Planes will initially be limited to 8,000 ft of a runway 13,000 ft long. An artillery shell caused spalling and left a 6-in.-deep hole about 10-x-10 ft at the 5,000-ft mark. "Were waiting on materials to repair the damage, but we can land over the spot and start getting in HA (humanitarian aid) flights right away," says Myers. He expects the crater to be repaired and curing "within a week or two," literally paving the way toward full restoration of the runway.
Since coalition forces began to move in around April 9, Air Force work crews load-tested the runway and swept the flight line clear of debris. The Army 3rd Infantry Divisions 937th Engineer Group, based in Ft. Hood, Texas, worked to restore water and power to the airport. Electricity started to come on line at the airport on April 18, well ahead of the surrounding neighborhood and the rest of Baghdad. There has been some grumbling from the public, but Army officers in charge point out that the airport is a self-contained unit, easier to secure. The are relatively decent as-built drawings available and work can proceed 24 hours a day, something that is not yet possible in many areas of the city.
"This is an international airport in name only," says Myers. "Like the rest of the regimes infrastructure, it hasnt been kept up. But its open now and as soon as there is a process in place to hand this over to the civilian side of the proper non-government organization, well step back and let them run it." In the near term, cargo and passenger flights will be mixed together in the same area, he adds. Separate areas will be set up as traffic ramps up. A process for vetting ground-based civilian flight service crews is still taking shape.
The military will continue to use its own strip as well. The U.S. has indicated that it wants control of at least four airstrips in different parts of Iraq. With the main objective achieved at Baghdad International, Myers says, military engineers will now concentrate on opening other airstrips to humanitarian aid flights. These include fields at Talil, Nasiriyah and, on the southeastern side of Baghdad, Rashid.
ENR Managing Senior Editor Andrew G. Wright is in Baghdad
with the Engineer Brigade of U.S. Army's Third Infantry