Mon | Nov 20, 2017

Unacceptable - Airspace closure tarnishes Ja's reputation as tourism destination - JHTA head

Published:Tuesday | September 12, 2017 | 12:00 AMJanet Silvera
Travellers making their way from the Norman Manley International Airport following the cancellation of flights on Saturday.
Persons at Norman Manley International Airport following the cancellation of flights on Saturday, September 10.
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WESTERN BUREAU:

The continuous closure of Jamaica's airspace and poor communication by the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) have been described as "unacceptable and embarrassing" by president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), Omar Robinson.

The lockdown, a result of damage by lightning to the radar/communication operating system used by air traffic controllers, has resulted in the cancellation of 35 flights between last Saturday and Monday into the Sangster International Airport.

The country's airspace was closed all day last Saturday, the busiest day for arrivals and departures; 12 hours on Sunday and 12 hours last night (Monday). The JCAA has not said when it expects things to return to normalcy.

The organisation has also been taken to task for giving scant information to the airlines, as well as operators of the Sangster International Airport, MBJ Airports Limited.

"This is unacceptable for a country that depends on tourism. There was no communication with the airlines on Sunday, causing two carriers, one with more than 342 passengers to divert to another destination," Robinson argued, adding that it was embarrassing, as the entire country has been held ransom by the JCAA since last Friday.

Expressing great concern that Kingston cannot continue to control all of the island's airspace, Robinson said the current situation paints a poor picture of the country. He argues that there should be redundant systems in place.

Meantime, the diverting of an aircraft to another destination, other than its intended, is very expensive. The operating airline is forced to pay for accommodation, extra fuel, several different airport fees, transportation and food for its passengers.

In the case of the airlines that could not access the island's airspace on Sunday night, Dr Rafael Echevarne, chief executive officer of MBJ Airports Limited, said it was after Evelop Air departed Europe that they became aware of the closure.

He argued that there was no official word on when things would go back to normal, "as we are operating from day to day in a state of uncertainty".

He says it would be good to see measures put in place to prevent this from happening again.

Research shows that there has never been a case of lightning striking the radar/communication system in any developing country, causing this type of disruption being experienced by Jamaica.

The Gleaner could not ascertain the number of flights that have been affected going into the Norman Manley International Airport. The facility's senior communication director, Alfred McDonald, said his team was compiling the numbers, but they would not be available until today.

In response to the situation, director general of the JCAA, Nari Williams Singh, said his team was doing everything possible to restore full service.

He said that by this afternoon, they should have more definitive information for the country, and by tomorrow should be able to make a statement.

"We are preparing a full assessment, which is very tedious," he explained to The Gleaner.

According to him, the building has a robust lightning protection system.

He wouldn't comment on accusations of poor distribution of information to stakeholders and he refuted claims that employee shortage has heightened the challenges being faced by the island.

Janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com