Gov't says impact of airspace closure not as severe

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, September 14, 2017

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JAMAICAN authorities say the impact of the closure of the country's air space on Friday afternoon was not as severe as is thought, as the incident occurred at a time when flights into the island were restricted due to preparations in Florida, United States, for the impending passage of Hurricane Irma.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer yesterday following a Jamaica House press briefing, where officials of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) and Aeronautical Telecommunications answered questions about the shut-down, Chairman of Aerotel Mark Ramsay explained: “On an average day at each of the airports we have between 24 to 50 flights coming in, and in terms of overflights it varies. What should be noted is that it happened at a time when there was a hurricane [threat] in the US… so most of those overflights which originate in Florida would have been blocked anyway. Miami airport was shut down already [and] Fort Lauderdale would have been shut down. [So] it happened at a time when we didn't have a high volume of flights.”

Ramsay noted that the majority of flights were being facilitated despite limited service. “Most of the flights take place during the 7:00 am to 7:00 pm window. We have been able to expand to 11:00 pm and are continuing to expand. We only have a few flights that have fallen out of the 7:00 pm band in the early days — Sunday and Monday but they were able to come in the next day. So the impact has not been as great as we might think. What's important is that nobody was hurt during the lightning strike that people saw computers fizzle in front of them,” he said. He stressed that Aerotel technicians have been working around the clock to have operations back to normal

Aerotel is a subsidiary of the JCAA, which provides engineering and specialised telecoms services to the authority, on behalf of the Government.

Scores of passengers were left stranded at the island's airports on the weekend, and the Opposition has come down hard on the Government with concerns about the efficiency of the country's aeronautical systems.

Ramsay stressed that the equipment is in fact highly insulated, many times above the necessary standards for telecoms equipment, but that Aerotel is in the process of having an external consultant audit the equipment and make recommendations for additional enhancements. “But it doesn't matter what setting you're in, with a lightning strike like this, there can be some damage — no matter which country in the world you're in, no matter what protection you put, in there is that rare occasion where you have a problem,” he remarked.

Meanwhile, advisor to the transport minister on aviation matters, Leroy Lindsay said there are no penalties to be applied by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as all the developments since Friday have been coordinated with the ICAO. “Everything has been done within the standards of the aviation industry,” he stated.

“There are backup systems and we are using them,” Chairman of the JCAA Phillip Henriques emphasised. He said that there are in fact multiple backup systems in place, and that with the old system hit by lightning strike, the new system which was in the process of being installed has enabled limited service at this point. The two systems, he said, were housed in separate buildings.

“We have had to make lots of rearrangements, bringing in contingency teams and pulling in lots of different crew to maintain airspace as we have had it, and hopefully by the end of tomorrow (today) we will be able to bring in and let out all flights without a problem,” he said.

The JCAA chairman noted that the process was further delayed over the weekend due to the continued inclement weather. “We unfortunately have had a rough time, but I do have to commend the staff tremendously because they have been putting in some immense hours and some very serious work to keep us where we are right now,” he said.

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