Jamaica facilitates all flights in and out of island

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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CHAIRMAN of the board of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) Phillip Henriques said the country has, as of yesterday, achieved its first goal of facilitating all scheduled flights in and out of the island, following the September 8 lightning strike which damaged radar and communication systems at its Winchester Road offices.

The island's airspace had to be closed as a result, but the authorities have been working feverishly to ensure normality amidst criticisms of ineffective back-up systems. The Government has since informed that it plans to spend $3.5 billion on new air traffic control towers for Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and the Sangster International Airport in St James, which will include back-up systems for both facilities. Each tower will feature back-up systems for the other.

“There are additional things that we have to do over the next few weeks and months as we transition into the new system — it's not going to be solved overnight. The important thing was to get our flights in and out of Jamaica, so that we minimise... the negative effects to our country,” Henriques told the Jamaica Observer, noting that the continued inclement weather has not hampered operations.

In the meantime, he said aviation inspectors are back on the job but the issues which caused last week's sick-out have not yet been fully resolved.

“They and the Ministry of Labour came to some arrangement, so that they are back at work; it's in process,” he said.

The Jamaica Aviation Inspectors Association, which represents the inspectors, said the workers were displeased with the pace of wage negotiations for the 2015 to 2017 contract period. According to president of the association Gary Carr, the inspectors have not received a salary increase since 2009, although most of the other 17 benefit claims have been met.

That the flight safety inspectors, a critical part of the aviation sector, decided to protest in the midst of the scramble by the JCAA to restore air service operations, has not earned the workers too many sympathies, with some seeing the sick-out at a time when the sector was facing enormous challenges as tantamount to a “stick-up”.

At a press conference called by Transport Minister Michael Henry last week, Henriques said that the action had not impacted air traffic operations. The protest did attract some amount of concern, however, given that aviation inspectors ensure the safe transportation of aircraft through functions such as examining aircraft, navigational aids, communications equipment, and investigating accidents and equipment failures.

— Alphea Saunders

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