Columns

When lightning brings

Lorenzo Smith

Sunday, September 17, 2017

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I want to start by acknowledging the work of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority. One can argue that Jamaica has enjoyed a considerably safe airspace, and for that we have to be grateful. With that said, I want to comment on the recent disturbance to the Jamaican airspace with the recent weather systems. I watched with interest the discussion regarding the closure of, and now scheduled opening of the airspace. I'm astonished at our ability to turn an important matter into a political football.

When the announcement of closure was made there were several concerns and queries which I thought were pertinent, particularly seeing the sensitivity of the matter. On Twitter, @KellyKatharin posed the following questions:

• What were the protective systems in place at the time of the lightning strike?

• Is there a business continuity plan documented and is it tested annually via simulation of an interruption such as this?

• Are these tests auditable?

On the same platform @FaeEllington echoed Kelly's sentiments when she asked: “Did the Civil Aviation have a lightning protection system at the time of strike?”

Sadly these questions were misconstrued by political operatives on social media, or as I term them the “Shower” and “Power” Rangers. Kelly's concerns made her eligible for the unsavoury position of enemy of the state, as her legitimate concerns were interpreted as bashing the Government and would serve to demotivate the crew at the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority. I would caution these rangers to allow for a little freer rein in the park of social media.

These are the facts as we know them: The Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority is reporting that air services in and out of Jamaica have been affected following a lightning strike which damaged critical equipment at its Winchester Road-based Kingston Air Traffic Control Centre on Friday afternoon ( The Gleaner).

While the critical equipment was damaged by a lightning strike it's not enough for us to not ask questions. While we cannot investigate an act of God, we can certainly prevent the severity of its impact, which is what the Opposition spokesman on transport, Mikael Phillips, did with his call for an investigation. The Opposition spokesman asserted that Jamaica has the necessary professional and material resources to respond to such an incident in a much shorter time frame. He called on the minister and the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority to immediately investigate and provide a detailed explanation of the closure because Jamaica's civil aviation status could suffer reputational damage from this long delay in service resumption ( Jamaica Observer).

I want to underscore Phillips's point by posing a few questions of my own.

• Was there an adequate backup system?

• How often is this system checked?

• In light of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority chairman's claim that the agency is about to change equipment, one must ask whether we were operating on outdated machinery.

• Additionally, given the chairman's comments on the ability of air traffic controls to fully operationalise the suite of features, should we not have long been concerned?

• What of the opportunity cost?

• Do we realise the blow that this will have in our revenue collection, particularly in this atmosphere of economic growth? The minister of transport proffered an explanation, citing 'an act of God', but I cannot help but ask, were there lightning protectors and were they durable? I find the lightning strike story to be the easy way out, which frankly is not acceptable. One cannot help but wonder if there is any speck of incompetence, which would be extremely sad.

Pieces are missing from the puzzle which further highlights the need for an investigation/audit. As a nation we should be preoccupied with the idea of making things better, and I think this event presents such an opportunity. We should let this be a teachable moment.

One love.

Lorenzo Smith is an educator with interests in social justice. Send comments to the Observer or to lorenzsmitt@gmail.com.

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