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AIRPORTS SHUT DOWN - Authorities forced to close Jamaica’s airspace overnight as air traffic controllers call in sick

Published:Saturday | August 22, 2015 | 12:00 AMArthur Hall
Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston.

Airlines around the world were yesterday warned to brace for a second straight night of disruptions of Jamaica's airports as a sickout by some air traffic controllers left the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) without sufficient manpower to effectively operate the country's airspace.

Members of the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association (JATCA) started calling in sick last Friday, and despite an emergency meeting called by the Ministry of Labour last Friday afternoon and a subsequent back-to-work order from the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT), the majority remained off the job.

"Until our members feel better, they will not be able to return to work," JATCA General Secretary Lenroy Morrison told The Sunday Gleaner yesterday.

"Some people have different complaints while some have chronic fatigue and are unable to work because they are sick," added Morrison, as he argued that the members were not ignoring the back-to-work order from the IDT.


Friday, Saturday night shutdowns


But with only a skeleton staff, the JCAA moved to shut down the island's airspace Friday night into Saturday morning and was poised to institute another shutdown at press time last night.

"We still had several sick reports from our air traffic controllers for the night shift last night (Friday) and the morning shift today (Saturday). As such, we have had to implement our contingency plan," said Nari Williams-Singh, director general of the JCAA.

"What the contingency plan does is it reduces the hours that we can provide air traffic services in. With the contingency team in place, we can provide air-traffic services between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. on a daily basis," added Williams-Singh.

He noted that with the contingency plan in place, no aircraft was allowed to land or take off from Jamaica's airports, and international carriers were not allowed to use the island's airspace during the period of the shutdown.

"Aircraft that would normally traverse our airspace to get to another destination will be rerouted around our airspace and, unfortunately, any aircraft that would be operating in and out of our airspace would have to be diverted or the airline would have to make other arrangement.

"It is an inconvenience and we are very much aware of that, so we are working to the best of our ability to have this matter resolved as soon as possible," said Williams-Singh.

The JCAA boss said while he could not say how many aircraft would be affected last night, it could be sizeable.

"Because of our location, we do usually have quite a fair bit of traffic in our airspace ... particularly traffic going north to south," said Singh.

Members of the JATCA have long expressed concern about the slow pace of current wage negotiations, and earlier this month turned up the pressure on the JCAA when they went public with claims that the local aviation and tourism sector could be in serious trouble if the Government did not urgently address equipment challenges.