HomeNews

News Search

Air National Guard Restores FAA Capabilities for Puerto Rico

Operations manager Edward Tirado (right) communicates with members of the emergency operations center team at the FAA's Puerto Rico Operations Center, Sept. 30, 2017. The partnership between the FAA and the Puerto Rico Air National Guard was instrumental in restoring air traffic operations.  (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Capt. Matt Murphy)

Operations manager Edward Tirado (right) communicates with members of the emergency operations center team at the FAA's Puerto Rico Operations Center, Sept. 30, 2017. The partnership between the FAA and the Puerto Rico Air National Guard was instrumental in restoring air traffic operations. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Capt. Matt Murphy)

Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers work at San Juan Center, Puerto Rico, Sept. 27, 2017. The controllers were communicating with aircraft utilizing a communications link provided by the Air National Guard. The Air National Guard is working with numerous federal and local agencies, such as the FAA, during the recovery effort on Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton)

Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers work at San Juan Center, Puerto Rico, Sept. 27, 2017. The controllers were communicating with aircraft utilizing a communications link provided by the Air National Guard. The Air National Guard is working with numerous federal and local agencies, such as the FAA, during the recovery effort on Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton)

Capt. Jeff Rutkowski from the 115th Fighter Wing, Wisconsin Air National Guard, and members of his team work inside the Puerto Rico FAA Operations Center, Sept. 30, 2017. The Wisconsin Guardsmen established a JISCC to restore air traffic communications allowing the FAA to resume full operations. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Capt. Matt Murphy)

Capt. Jeff Rutkowski from the 115th Fighter Wing, Wisconsin Air National Guard, and members of his team work inside the Puerto Rico FAA Operations Center, Sept. 30, 2017. The Wisconsin Guardsmen established a JISCC to restore air traffic communications allowing the FAA to resume full operations. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Capt. Matt Murphy)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A week and a half post hurricane Maria, it is hard to tell the Federal Aviation Administration was at “ground zero” and in the dark with no power or communications capabilities. Now, the air traffic flow at San Juan Luis Munoz Marin International Airport is back to normal thanks to the Air National Guard stepping in to help the FAA and to restore air operations for the island.

The Sept. 20 storm hit Puerto Rico and destroyed a key generator used by the FAA to power their control center that directs aircraft movement in and around the island. The FAA’s San Juan Center is responsible for directing the movement of civilian and military aircraft for takeoff and landing, but also any aircraft flying in the vicinity. 

Edward Tirado, an operations manager with the Puerto Rico FAA, said, “We take it for granted.” As he points to a telephone. “It seems so simple, but it’s a lifeline for our operations. After the storm we had nothing. Thanks to our relationship with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard, they were able to provide us with the assistance we needed to get back up and running and now the Air National Guard is supporting us with redundancy as a backup now that power is restored to our building.”

The loss of power and communications lines created a situation where all aircraft traffic had to be controlled by visual and physical spacing. Only one aircraft could arrive or leave the island every 10 minutes, or six per hour, to ensure that the aircraft were safely separated. Under normal operating conditions, an airport the size of San Juan International can handle about 45 flights per hour. The limited aircraft movement choked the supply chain of critical material and personnel.

The Puerto Rico Air National Guard, while in a recovery state itself, saw the big picture and knew they needed to immediately support the FAA. The focus of the PRANG’s assistance was to help re-establish local and ground-to-air communications and to re-establish radar coverage of the air space above the island and surrounding area. 

Lt. Col. Humberto Pabon, the vice wing commander of the PRANG’s 156th Airlift Wing understood the gravity of the situation and the necessity to restore air operations capabilities so he set teams in motion.

“Our communications flight immediately engaged with the FAA at the airport, to begin that process. We worked with various Guard resources to provide power and immediate data link access,” Pabon said. 

With basic communications established, the number of flights taking place per hour, began to climb, from six per hour, to 18 per hour two days after the storm, to more than 30 and finally into the upper 30s and low 40s which is normal operations . 

After the storm, the PRANG’s 156th Communications Flight, had immediately established a JISCC – Joint Incident Site Communications Capability team – giving Air Guard commanders local communications and get their own air operation back online.

Another Air National Guard JISCC unit, the 126th from Illinois, is powering the 156th’s command post and airfield management office, restoring ramp operations at Muniz. The commanders and team members from all three JISCCs pulled resources and knowledge to work with the FAA and get them back up and running.

In the spirit of community partnership, the Air National Guard provided an additional resource, the 115th Communications Flight, Wisconsin Air National Guard, set up a separate JISCC at the FAA communications center at San Juan. This allowed San Juan Center to begin having direct communications with inbound and outbound aircraft again. 

“We had to come up with multiple solutions to every challenge, said Capt.Jeff Rutkowski, commander of the Wisconsin JISCC. “We’d try something and the first solution wouldn’t work. We’d get something started and realize that a better idea came along and we’d switch to that. We were dealing with a scenario where so many things were damaged, we really had to get creative.”

“This support between the Guard and the FAA is unprecedented,” said 2nd Lt. Jose Arroyo-Cruz, a 156th cyberspace operations officer and one of hundreds of PRANG Citizen-Airmen who have been on the job since before the storm hit. “We had a hole in the sky over Puerto Rico. It was a giant hole in the highway in the sky. We had to fix that hole before we could bring in aid to the people of Puerto Rico.”
USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.