AIRPORT – Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) may be forced into hibernation for the next two months in keeping with government’s island-wide measures to halt the spread of the deadly Coronavirus in the St. Maarten Community. This however is far from sitting back, Airport CEO, Mr. Brian Mingo, says. We are confident that our team of management and staff at PJIA will once again be using all the lessons learned from the past to ensure they come out of this latest disaster stronger and with a new sense of purpose. Our hibernation means, to conserve resources and work on fundamentals towards the back to business chapter PJIA.
Mr. Mingo says PJIA has defined three major chapters in handling of the Corona crisis:
- The lockdown – Prepare, Protect & Stabilize the Airport (towards lockdown)
- The Hibernation – Conserve, work smart and prepare for restart (during lockdown)
- The Back to business – Business recovery (after lockdown)
“This is not a promise, but fact,” articulated Mr. Mingo after briefing government on operational contingencies at PJIA, during a meeting of Parliament on Apr 1, 2020 02:00 PM
During the meeting Mr. Mingo fielded questions on various developments, including the status of funding for the facility’s much-needed Airport Reconstruction Program. In the CEO’s briefing however, an equally important focus during the meeting, was his assurance to government and the community that the Airport is being ably managed and will be able to ride the current storm thanks to the combined efforts of its personnel.
Mr. Mingo says due to forward thinking on the part of the PJIA team and its Financing Partners. A provision was put in place with the World Bank, whereby a cash component was made for business continuity in the event of such a calamity as COVID-19. This has provided an important buffer to help the Airport so it can confidently continue with its reconstruction plans – despite the present business disruptions.
“This would not have been possible or possibly very difficult had we continued with funds from the commercial banking sector and not the World Bank and European Investment Bank,” said CEO Mr. Mingo.
“We have recently seen the passing of two stalwarts of PJIA, Mr. Larry Donker and Mr. Kenneth Kong within the space of a few days. The spirit of their contribution to our success, I am happy to say, continues to this day and will takes us through this very difficult period for PJIA and for St. Maarten,” said Mr. Mingo.
Mr. Mingo said PJIA will be using the next two months of hibernation wisely to take advantage of zero aircraft landing and taking off at the facility. While the hibernation period is initially for two months, contingencies have been put in place in the event things take a turn for the worse and the Airport facility has to remain on lockdown for six months or more.
“We have already closed the main Terminal and put that area into secured suspension to allow for a major cleaning and also to cut down on operational costs. In the meantime, operations are being focused towards the FBO building,” which will be used for medical, relief and cargo flights, said Mr. Mingo.
He said new work schedules have been drawn up to utilize personnel who can work remotely on various projects and assignments – all while supporting government’s initiatives and measures aimed at taking the island through the current crisis with the least impact to human life and the economy as possible.
“I have expressed to everyone at PJIA what an amazing and “genius” team they are. They are not only an inspiration to the company and their families and loved ones but to the whole of St. Maarten,” continued Mr. Mingo.
He said his teams have been most supportive during the current crisis and are fully embracing the changes that are taking pace at PJIA in these extraordinary times, pointing to the continuous work of the Coronavirus Task Force in implementing and surpassing government guidelines to help contain the spread of the COVID-19 disease at the Airport entry point. Thanks to this team, the Airport has been able to focus on all safety mitigations for staff and stakeholders, having secured Respiratory masks and protection glasses to keep front line staff safe.
“We may be going into hibernation, but we will definitely not be going to sleep at PJIAE, because we are going full steam ahead in keeping to our target of having the first phase of our newly constructed airport open by the original date of December 2021,” says Mr. Mingo.
He says he has spoken with his various teams about what, on the face if it, seems to be an impossible task, however everyone is in agreement that if a sound plan can be put in place to prioritize the opportunities that have presented themselves to schedule works during the hibernation period, then everything can be in place for immediate start of reconstruction works once the threat of COVID-19 is lifted from St. Maarten.
“During this hibernation period we, as Airport, can execute several business improvements plans and strategies for the new terminal to re-open since we have zero passengers and the work floor and tarmac is vacant. This has to be smart since there is zero money coming in also,” said the CEO, Mr. Mingo.
Our objective is to support the government to keep St Maarten healthy and safe for the people from St Maarten but also for its tourists and visitors. We attract tourism from the USA and Europe and tourists from these areas also want to be sure that St Maarten is a safe place to live and travel to.
Mr. Mingo says in order for PJIAE to have even half a chance of success, it is incumbent on everyone in the community, business and individuals, to ensure they are playing their part in containing the Coronavirus by supporting government guidelines to the letter, also by working very closely with the Ministry of VSA since the outbreak of the Coronavirus threat. Also remember that we are also depending on the status of both the USA and Europe how they will recover from this pandemic outbreak.
The Airport has assisted with the ordering of free donation of Protective N95 masks to VSA for distribution to medical personnel in the frontline of local containment fight and has offered to use its connections with Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands to fill further orders for personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies, however, Mr. Mingo urges others to also play their part and see what they can do to minimize the impact the current disruption on St. Maarten society will have in the coming months.
The Airport CEO continues to be thankful to government for its support, most recently in giving the Airport team the opportunity to showcase the new Airport Terminal, as well as the Airport’s Crisis and Business Continuity Plan during a meeting of Parliament.
I understand that because of the importance of the Airport to the economy of St. Maarten it will get a lot of attention from government and the public, so the opportunity to highlight the steps we are taking to bridge this difficult period when we have no traffic is most welcomed,” continued Mr. Mingo.
The Airport chief is also thanking other partners and stakeholders, especially counterparts at Schiphol Airport who continue to provide support to PJIAE at several levels and will also play an important part in the rapid execution of reconstruction works once it has started.
“In the end PJIA has demonstrated how resilient it can be and how professionally it handles its operations. We have managed to keep the Airport going even before this crisis with numbers at nearly 85% in cramped conditions using only a small portion of a damaged Terminal, so the personnel here know how to survive commercially,” said Mr. Mingo.
He says we are going into hibernation but “We have never been more awake. We continue to work actively to deliver on our promise to reconstruct the Airport and heading toward a light at the end of what is now a very dark tunnel with confidence and much positive hope for the future.”
“We are in this together,” ended the CEO, Mr. Mingo.