SINT MAARTEN (SIMPSON BAY-AIRPORT) – With more and more countries around the world starting to open up to the travelling public with a gradual cooling off of the Coronavirus lockdown, so are major airlines keen to resume flights to St. Maarten – that’s the word from PJIAE Management after receiving multiple enquiries from major carriers, including American Airlines, Delta Airlines and JetBlue.
They are all eager to once again land at SXM, St. Maarten and St. Martin’s regional hub, during the month of June and onward. The airport has been in hibernation mode since the third week of March, following a lockdown order by government to contain the spread of the Coronavirus on St. Maarten.
As the government continues to relax its containment measures, Management and staff of PJIAE are looking forward to resuming operations as soon as allowed by the Sint Maarten government.
Some airlines were already calling about resuming flights beginning May 2020 however, due to the local lockdown and St. Maarten’s readiness, they were informed that they would have to wait until the lockdown was lifted before a firm date could be given.
“We set a target for mid-June, to have everything in place to begin inviting airlines back to SXM. All we need now is the green light from government to open up and officially begin a planned, controlled, and phased return of airlines and passengers to our entry port,” says, airport CEO Mr. Brian Mingo.
Mr. Mingo informed that PJIAE established a special COVID-19 Task Force, to create preventative and mitigation measures, and is about to roll out all necessary non-pharmaceutical interventions to guarantee a safe corridor for the entire airport community.
The airport plan entails a first phase opening of flights to what PJIA considers the domestic islands (Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius), and the other Caribbean islands with no Covid-19 cases including the formal hub partners of PJIA, which are Anguilla, and St. Barth’s. Other islands are being worked on as well.
A subsequent phase could cater to international airlines such as KLM/ Air France, and Air Caraibes, departing from Schiphol (Netherlands), Charles De Gaulle (France), and Orly (France). The third phase would be the USA, Canadian, and other remaining Caribbean destinations, followed by Latin America as the fourth phase.
During all the phases, there can be restricted countries, which would not be allowed travel to SXM, or with required procedures, depending on the government’s assessments of the situation pertaining to the containment of the virus.
Creating a safe corridor is essential to connect with airlines and other airports.
The plan PJIAE’s Task Force presented also calls for: • Continuous monitoring of safety protocols in coordination with airline and airport partners. • Implementation of airport safety protocols, including the mandatory use of face masks covering the mouth and nose. • An awareness program for social distance amongst passengers, employees, and all users. • Mass Fever screening stations. • Mandatory hand sanitizing stations positioned throughout the airport. • Regular sanitizing and disinfecting of hard surfaces throughout the day with deep cleaning and disinfecting regimens during low capacity hours. • High quality plexiglass barriers between front line staff and passengers. • Improved, increased, and sanitized fresh air through the ventilation system. • Isolation Rooms on premises, in case a passenger is suspected of being infected.
Other measures include the requiring of online Health Declaration Cards executed before being allowed to board a flight to and from St. Maarten. Based on regular discussions with the airlines, they have expressed satisfaction with the planned preventative and safety measures PJIAE put in place, and that these measures are aligned with their measures, covering the entire passenger journey while at SXM, from arrival at the curbside and up until the boarding process.
Much of this alignment is the result of conference calls, exchange of information, and best practices. “The fact is we all have to deal with the new reality of a COVID-19 pandemic, in everything we do, in close collaboration with airline partners, other airports and governments everywhere,” said Mr. Mingo.
Healthcare services, the hospitality and tourism industry, as well as our counterparts on French St. Martin, also form part of this consulting process. The “New Normal” will be a totally different travelling experience for passengers from the time they arrive at an airport to the time they reach their destination and return home.
“At all stages, passengers, employees and crew members will be required to undergo screening, adhere to sanitizing protocols and any other safety measures required by airlines or airports, such as wearing masks,” said Mr. Mingo.
The COVID-19 Task Force has been in constant contact with airport partners and airport authorities throughout the hibernation period to find out what the best practices might be for small airports like SXM with a high throughput of passenger traffic.
The Task Force has also worked closely with government departments so that there can be a coordinated approach of all sectors of the St. Maarten community once flights to the island resume.
Airport personnel who are part of the COVID-19 Task Force have been meeting practically every day to ensure all bases are covered when they reconnect with airlines and other airports in the coming weeks, with a target of being best in class when it comes to setting an example of airport safety in the midst of a global pandemic.
According to Mr. Mingo, one of the downsides of the recent lockdown on St. Maarten has been the anxiety and stress caused by being confined at home and the working at home experience, limiting our mobility and contact with the outside world.
Mr. Mingo further explained: “the truth is, while airlines are knocking on the door requesting a date for the airport’s opening, the public can be assured that all contingencies are in place in collaboration with government and other partners in the airline industry to ensure the re-opening of the airport is controlled, and offers the highest level of safety to everyone.”
Safety first – “We need to protect our destination St. Maarten”. To guard as best as we can, passengers coming to St. Maarten free of the COVID-19 infection, enjoying all the island has to offer, and to go home virus free with the story that our paradise St. Maarten is a safe place to travel. He says it is for this reason that the PJIAE Management Team and COVID-19 Task Force is working so closely with government and other stakeholders toward a date that is acceptable to everyone.
“We have collectively put together an intelligent and safe re-opening plan that is preventive and at the same time creates a safe environment for staff, the airport community and all stakeholders,” added the airport Chief.