JCAA urges NMIA operators to take passenger comfort seriously
WITH Jamaica emerging from what has been the hottest year on record and with more sweltering months predicted, director general of Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Derby has charged operators of Norman Manley International Airport to pull out all the stops to enhance passenger comfort.
This following on numerous complaints about broken air conditioning units in the terminal buildings at the Kingston-based gateway, malfunctioning toilets, broken parking machines and leaks, by individuals using the facility in recent months.
“One of the things of concern at the airport has been passenger comfort in terms of the air conditioning. When the toilets are bad and other items are bad it is very noticeable, but when those things are noticeable when you are hot and uncomfortable it magnifies the discomfort so I am happy to know that the issue is being addressed,” Derby said at an airport forum put on by operators of the entity PAC Kingston Airport Limited (PACKAL) on the weekend.
PACKAL has operated NMIA under a 25-year concession agreement since 2019 and has the responsibility to operate and maintain the entity, improve the efficiency of landside and airside operations, and to finance and complete the planned modernisation programme. One main deliverable under the agreement, at a cost to the concessionaire, is completion of the planned modernisation and expansion of the airport, however the COVID-19 pandemic hobbled those plans, setting them back considerably. Earlier this month, Minister of Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport Daryl Vaz said a revised concession agreement between the Government and PACKAL for the operation and maintenance of the airport is “now in effect” and should ease grouses over the running of the entity and the infrastructure.
Speaking at the forum Derby said, “Just this week the United Nations declared 2023 the hottest year on record so far. And you will all perhaps be aware that in 2023 Jamaica entered climate departure, meaning that the coolest year going forward will be hotter than the hottest on record, therefore we have to look at that aspect of passenger comfort very seriously as we go forward. It’s not business as usual in terms of keeping passengers cool so I hope this is taken into consideration.”
PACKAL Chief Executive Officer Fernando Vistrain Lorence, providing an update on the various capital expenditure priority projects underway at the airport, said work is ongoing to settle the issues.
“We are going to identify the company that is going to provide us with the new chillers before the end of December. We have four chillers [for the units] that inject the air into the terminals so once we have the contract with this company we are expecting that the chillers will arrive in Jamaica between three to four months. So, before the middle of the year we are expecting to have brand new equipment so everybody can be sure that there will be no further issues with the AC system,” the airport’s CEO said.
In the meantime, he said the bathrooms in question are being worked on and will soon be in peak condition. Car park improvements and the upgrading of parking stations are also underway, the operators said.
“I can tell you that all the bathrooms inside the terminal, and the cargo area, and throughout the airport are going to be good bathrooms,” he said while pointing out that the airport in times past has done renovations on bathrooms, only to have them wrecked in a matter of weeks by users.
Further, the airport’s CEO said the preliminary work regarding the repaving and extension of the runway is also advanced.
“The paving of the runway is old and it’s time to replace it. We finished the geotechnical studies, and all the studies required, and the tender to identify which contractor will be in charge. We are on time to start the overlay very early next year. We already published notice to pilots and airlines that the airport is going to be closed next year from 10 pm to 5 am for a period of six months,” he said.
Lorence said once the contractor has been identified there will be closer dialogue with JCAA to establish all the protocols and safety measures, et cetera, so as to prevent a repeat of what occurred at Sangster International Airport on August 10 this year during runway extension work which was being carried out there overnight. The closure resulted in several flights being diverted to NMIA. A preliminary report revealed that the closure was due to several gaps in the airport’s operation, including timely communication between regulatory entities.
“The runway extension, the plan is to start in the first quarter of 2024, March 31 [and] for that, we need to do some steps before. One important one is to identify the company that is going to manage and supervise the project. We are on time with that, we are finishing the tender. We are not clear yet how long it’s going to take but, according to the concession before COVID, we had three years to execute [so] we are expecting to have a similar period,” he said further.
NMIA — which is the primary gateway for business travel to and from Jamaica and for the movement of air freight — caters to more than 1.7 million passengers and handles more than 70 per cent (17 million kilograms) of the island’s air cargo each year.