Categorized | National News

Control Tower AC Malfunction Causes Airport Delays-Tourists Express Concerns

At least a dozen international and local airlines suffered major delays in departures from the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) this week due to malfunctioning air condition units in the airport’s control tower, according to a senior Civil Aviation official.

President of the Air Traffic Controllers Union (ATCU) Roscoe Perpall told the Bahama Journal yesterday that flight departures were delayed for at least two hours on Monday.

The tower’s two air condition units malfunctioned Sunday morning following a lightning storm in New Providence, said Mr. Perpall, who is also a control tower supervisor.

Subsequently, a portable air condition unit was brought in to temporarily service the facility, which Mr. Perpall explained is a glassed-in environment with no open windows and no other means of ventilation.

“There are no shades on the tower and the sun beams on the glass all day. To give people an idea of how hot it gets, just imagine being locked up in a closed car with the sun shining on it all day and no ventilation,” he said.

But to add insult to injury, on Monday, that portable unit, which was brought in on Sunday, also malfunctioned making it difficult for air traffic controllers to carry out their jobs, Mr. Perpall said.

“When that portable unit failed, it resulted in excessive heat in the tower and the controllers had to reduce staff levels in the tower to the bare minimum,” Mr. Perpall said.

“The tower is usually staffed with at least five people at one time. However, on Monday we had controllers working one at a time taking 10 minute rotations to provide some level of service. That went on for about two-hours before the air condition unit was successfully restored.”

And even though working in the environment poses a safety hazard, Mr. Perpall said controllers adopted the rotation system so that the airport could remain open.

“That system worked for us yesterday [Monday], and we were able to accommodate all arrivals. International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulations also stipulate that aircraft in the air must be given highest priority in any instance. So, as soon as we were done accommodating incoming traffic, flights were able to depart,” he said.

Mr. Perpall continued, “The air condition unit has been a problem for us in the control tower for more than a year now. Temporary supplies were put in place and later a new air condition system was put in place. However, [I believe] a lack of proper servicing and proper infrastructure led to that unit failing as well.”

Tourists Concerned

The Bahama Journal initially got word about the delays from a Bahamian passenger who returned home on a United Airlines flight from New Jersey on Monday afternoon.

The passenger recalled how the flight attendant explained to passengers just before the plane’s final descent that the control tower was practically shut down because the “air condition was not working.”

“The flight attendant came through the cabin explaining to passengers how foolish it was that Bahamian air traffic controllers were unwilling to work just because the air conditioning was not working. She made it seem as though the problem was trivial,” the passenger said.

“After the attendant made the announcement, tourists began expressing concerns about airport safety and did not seem to have a good first impression of the country. I was very saddened at the flight attendant’s nonchalant attitude toward the whole thing although we didn’t know exactly what was happening.”

Infrastructural Challenges Remain

And although the problem has been temporarily fixed, Mr. Perpall said these small problems will continue and could perhaps lead to even bigger problems in the future, unless the necessary infrastructural upgrades are made soon.

“The truth of the matter is that the infrastructure at the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) is a bit dated. Many of our systems need to be replaced and that has been acknowledged for a long time by the government that the air traffic system needs to be replaced and upgraded,” he said.

“In some instances, our equipment is not being properly maintained. The government is currently looking at a $50 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to upgrade the air traffic system. We are currently looking at replacing the radar and some other needed equipment as well.”

Additional money, he said, is still needed to address other areas in the Civil Aviation Department.

Mr. Perpall claimed he had spoken to Minister of Labour Shane Gibson on Monday whom he said has promised to dedicate significant attention to having these issues corrected in the shortest possible time.

“We look forward to that relief in the not too distant future,” he said.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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