Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Editorial | Norman Manley International Airport – time for a reset

Published:Sunday | November 22, 2020 | 8:00 AM

A member of the travelling public is calling attention to the run-down state of the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA).

In a letter to this newspaper, Layla Buckley suggested that it is a stain on the honour of late National Hero Norman Manley to have the airport in such poor aesthetical shape. She was specific: overgrown vegetation, faded paint, and poor lighting, which was a threat to security.

Complaints about the airport facilities are by now wearyingly familiar because there have been scathing reviews in the past. She could have added: toilets that malfunction, leaking roofs with unsightly catchment buckets, substandard bathrooms that lack toilet paper, soap, and hand towels.

We accept the argument that there have been patchwork improvements over the years. Indeed, the Business Lounge, called Kingston Club, has itself earned rave reviews from sections of the travel trade. But Government clearly does not have the resources required to undertake major capital development, and so it sought private-sector investment.

In 2018, Mexican company Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico (GAP) was awarded a 25-year concession to manage the NMIA after besting the other bidders. It took control of the NMIA in October 2019. GAP is not an unknown entity, for it also manages the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. Only recently, it announced that it had secured a bank loan to undertake capital development of the Sangster airport.

GAP’s bid was successful, for it obviously convinced Government of its financial strength, technical competence, and operational expertise. The winning GAP team was given the mandate to undertake a major capital programme to include extension of the runway and improvement to the airside and other terminal facilities at the NMIA.

We share Ms Buckley’s concern, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic when there is heightened attention to hygiene and cleanliness in public spaces. Infections can be caught in bathrooms if they are not kept scrupulously clean, and no one wants to add terminal illness to the other challenges travellers face as they move from one country to another.

By now, we should have seen some movement by GAP. Maybe not huge ones, but even simple maintenance projects to give the public the assurance that the concessionaires are moving towards a more comprehensive plan in the near future.

Decrease in Air Traffic

The pandemic has resulted in a decrease in air traffic. The statistics confirm this. However, with encouraging news about vaccine successes, it is likely that things will improve, and more people will be motivated to travel once again – and soon.

The benefits of the aviation sector to an economy cannot be overstated. It fosters business expansion, allows access to foreign markets, and offers opportunities for cultural exchanges. Prior to the pandemic, there were an estimated 1,300 airlines operating 37,700 aircraft out of 3,700 airports. Passenger load was projected to double in 20 years.

The point we want to stress is that the airport is one of the country’s most valuable assets. Regulation of the civil aviation industry is vested in the Civil Aviation Authority of Jamaica on behalf of the people of Jamaica. The Authority should. therefore, be proactive in bringing the concessionaire to heel to ensure that the facility is kept in reasonable shape at all times. If routine maintenance is being neglected now, what confidence is there that the major works will be undertaken as mandated?

A decrepit airport makes for an awful introduction to a country no matter how beautiful it is.