Travellers and airline officials expressed their frustrations Tuesday regarding the ongoing challenges of flights being unable to operate once it is raining on island.
The decision to close the airport for landing and takeoff once rain is falling was taken on September 24, 2019, one day after a Fly Montserrat islander skidded off the runway on approach. Since then, numerous delays and the costs to travellers and the airlines for cancellations and missed flights continues to increase with no indication as to when the matter will be resolved.
SVG Air Managing Director Paul Gravel called into the ZJB Radio Montserrat Breakfast Show and said he and his pilots were not pleased with the current situation at the airport. “The islanders are not a profitable route,” Gravel said. His airline, he added continued to serve the island as it was a necessity to provide connectivity for travellers.
Gravel called the decision to close the airport once it is raining, a “knee jerk reaction” which is proving to be a costly decision for both the airlines and the passengers. Having to return passengers to Antigua when they are almost home often means that his airline is asked to pick up the cost for them overnighting or being stranded there.
A caller added that in order to ensure he is able to make his connection flights on Sunday afternoon, he is now forced to leave Montserrat a day early in case of rain. Another caller expressed that her recent guests suffered major financial losses for the frequent cancellations and having to rebook several connections to make it home. Business owner Hazel Riley commented on social media that “I agree that safety is very important but the “no fly on wet runway” is definitely not the solution. Last week I tried to book a flight to travel on Friday and was told “if you have a connecting flight” which I did, “you have to travel on Thursday because if it rains we can’t fly”.”
Fly Montserrat CEO Nigel Harris, joined in the conversation stating that it costs his airline about US$2000 with every flight that is unable to land or take off from the John A. Osborne Airport. He also sought to clarify talk that he was pressuring associates at the Air Accident Investigation to delay the release of the report. Harris said it was in everyone’s interest that the matter be resolved and that the airport be further improved with the runway resurfacing and night flights.
The Government of Montserrat has indicated that resurfacing the runway was a priority of the new administration. No dates on when the project will begin has been identified.
The travel issue has been further compounded by the regular ferry being on dry dock since last weekend. While a temporary ferry service will be available from Friday, in the interim people needing to get on or off Montserrat are at the mercy of the weather.
The island’s access challenges are heightened as travellers make arrangements to attend the annual St. Patrick’s Festival in March. It is also of concern that those affected are using social media such as Trip Advisor to warn others of their experience …. https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g147333-i1913-k13182036-Beware_of_the_risk_of_flying_into_or_from_Montserrat-Montserrat.html
Gravel said after speaking to pilots who were at the airport on the day of the accident with the Fly Montserrat aircraft and other experts who have flown in and out of the island, there were extenuating factors at play on the afternoon, which may have contributed to the young pilot not being able to stay on the runway. He said, SVG Air has a minimum standard of 1500 flying hours for its pilots to be able to operate solo flights. He said the Islanders used across the region on small hop flights similar to Montserrat usually attract more seasoned pilots who are able to manage high stress situations.
While the airline official declined to state what steps his company would take if the issue were not resolved in short order, he encouraged the residents to push for the government to produce a report on the accident and to reverse the decision to close the runway when wet as it is his expert opinion and that of many others that the runway being wet was not the cause of the accident.
Gravel also suggested the government invest in Twin Otters which would be a better fit for the runway.
Listen to the complete interview here —