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 Bahamas Commentary

2005-12-28 16:34:18

Chaos Once More at Nassau Airport

Government would be well advised to concentrate on quickly getting this airport under competent management before tourism collapses under the weight of total incompetence.

"PARDON OUR appearance as we try to improve our service".

Loud guffaws and ribald jokes at the sight of this sign at Nassau International Airport on Monday broke the tension of passengers who, standing in line for more than an hour to clear security, fretted that they would miss their flights. They found the sign ironically amusing as they had received no service. But even worse they were given no information.

What they did not know as they slowly moved through the queue was that the airport's radar had broken down, and planes were stacked up overhead, going nowhere. Many of the aircraft had to return to home ports, others were diverted to other tourist destinations to discharge holiday passengers, originally destined for the Bahamas.

According to a radio announcement Monday by Airport Authority general manager Idris Reid, Nassau International Airport was not closed, but because its radar was down, it was having to follow FAA regulations and maintain a certain time lapse between arriving and departing aircraft In fact - if not in name - Nassau Airport was closed and the time lapse between flights was in the region of an unacceptable eight hours or more. By Tuesday morning aircraft leaving the US for Nassau were bumping passengers so that they could carry enough fuel to get them to Nassau and back to their home airports.

A Bahamian business man, who took two hours in a queue from American Eagle's airline counter - which he said dispatched him quickly - to the departure lounge, said he had to suffer in silence the sarcastic remarks of visitors about the condition of the airport and the laid back-attitude in the Bahamas.

What he did not know at that point was that the delays were such that even if the flight on which he was booked could have taken off it could not get him to his destination in time to join a cruise for which he had been booked for some time. In the end he gave up, returned home and with his travel agent tried to figure out how he could pick up his cruise at its next port of call.

When he realised the full import of the chaos building up around him, the frustration and anger of visitors during the Bahamas' busiest travel period of the year, he commented: "The hurricanes missed Nassau this year, but do you realise that what is happening here today is a worse disaster than any hurricane could have delivered? It has crippled our "tourist industry." He wished that Prime Minister Christie could have replaced him in the line to hear and experience and then understand the urgency of getting the airport's management into experienced hands. He was satisfied that no one in the queue that day was a return visitor.

The airport was meant to be privatised by the end of this year. Negotiations have been going on for more than a year - three more days will end the year - and still no news about whether the talks with Vancouver Airport Services has been concluded. We have heard many rumours, one of them being that government wants more control than is good for the health of a private airport. If this is in fact true, then it spells disaster.

How many more years will it take for government to understand that government is the airport's major problem; that its continuing interfering presence in an industry that it knows nothing about is not only killing the airport, but is drilling the nail deeper into the coffin of this country's major industry - tourism. Any businessman who would venture into an airport operation with a partner as clueless as a government should invite close public observation - for something must be wrong with their judgment.

As is well known by now, this is not the first time that the radar has broken down at our airport.

However, it is the first time that it has done so at the most critical period for our tourist industry. Needless to say, hoteliers and Ministry of Tourism personnel are upset, as they should be.
All their work, all the hotels' and taxpayers' money spent on advertising, all wasted because sufficient care was not taken to make certain that the airport operated efficiently to get visitors to their destinations for Christmas and the New Year.

We understand that when the primary airport radar system went down on December 15, a back up system remained. It is claimed that the decision was made that the back up system would be sufficient to see Nassau through the holidays. If this is true, this means that the primary system had not been repaired. On Monday morning the back up system failed.

And the Bahamas says it plans to take over its own airspace by monitoring its own Flight Information Region (FIR) so that it can collect tens of millions of dollars in fees now collected by the United States.

And it doesn't even have the expertise to keep its own radar system operational!

As the old folks used to say: Man, don't make that I laugh!

Government would be well advised to concentrate on quickly getting this airport under competent management before tourism collapses under the weight of total incompetence.

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