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2005-12-29 16:35:01

Government Silent on Airport Chaos

One observer of government's apparent indifference suggested that 'either they don't care; are too embarrassed or are just disorganised.'

After a weekend of chaos at Nassau International Airport - 32 flights cancelled with more than 2,000 stranded travellers - civil servants in their uptown air-conditioned offices either knew nothing of the depth of the problem, or were not talking to the press.

There was total silence from the Cabinet Office yesterday, while Prime Minister Christie attended a memorial service in Bimini for the crash victims of Chalks Airline.

Meantime concerned members of the Airline Operators Committee, having heard nothing up to late yesterday from any government official, have scheduled a meeting with hoteliers to see how together they can protect their passengers from the hardships and inconveniences of Nassau International.

Several airline operators were "completely puzzled" that no government official had made any attempt to find out what had happened at the airport and the fall-out that it was having on the industry.

One observer of government's apparent indifference suggested that "either they don't care; are too embarrassed or are just disorganised."

Persons observing the weekend confusion were satisfied that there was more afoot than a malfunctioning radar system. We were told that job unrest was apparent, in addition to a major fuel problem.

Fuel, which is usually pumped from Clifton to the fuel farm at the airport, where it is then pumped through the hydrant system to refuel aircraft, was not functioning. Large fuel trucks from Texaco, Esso and Shell were running shuttles to and from Clifton to bring fuel into "the farm" for the hydrant. Despite this, fuel was in short supply.

Yet when a fuel company executive was asked yesterday for a reason for the lack of supplies, he feigned ignorance of the problem.

No one will answer the question: Why was fuel not being pumped from Clifton to the airport as usual?
As far as information about what went wrong on Monday and Tuesday and an explanation of why more effort was not made to assist passengers, the airport was in complete lock-down - no one was talking to the press.

Virgin Atlantic's large jumbo, which landed from London on Monday with about 400 passengers, took five hours to find enough, fuel for the return, trip to London: When the airport ran out, it had to purchase fuel from MillionAir and Executive Flight Services.

It was only when Virgin's captain - whose flight time was running out - threatened to cancel his flight that the Tower cleared the way for him to taxi his jumbo out to the runway and head for London.

It was only then that a Bahamasair aircraft was towed from behind the jumbo to clear the way. Even so the operation took another 45 minutes. Radar, as one observer pointed out was not needed for better management of the gates and taxiways.

The observer said there was plenty of room for aircraft to push off from the gates and taxi to the taxiways to keep aircraft moving. However, the tower was not allowing many of them to push off to make room for others. "Either they (air traffic controllers) are not doing a good job, or they are doing it on purpose," said the observer. Those watching the slow manoeuvres were satisfied that industrial unrest was part of the problem.

Lack of restaurants, and good eating places is a perennial complaint at the airport.

When the radar went down early Monday morning, stranded passengers started to line up outside the airport's sole eatery.

Before the day was out, the restaurant had  run out of food and beverages. Passengers complained that not only was there nothing to eat, but there was no information. All they knew was what they could overhear being whispered between staff at the various airport counters. Frustration, panic and anger started to build.

At a press conference Tuesday members of the Airline Operators Committee (AOC) said that what made the situation even worse was that they heard nothing from the Airport Authority or the Department of Civil Aviation. In fact; they said, there was a complete lack of communication between the airlines and officials.

On Monday, when the situation continued to deteriorate and no leader was present to take charge, we asked where Prime Minister Christie was, only to be told that he was at junkanoo, but was being "kept informed."

We can only conclude that this is a government that does not have its priorities right.

Editorial from The Tribune
Nassau, Bahamas

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