Irate holiday travelers experienced significant delays at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) yesterday as a result of increased traffic, bad weather and other factors, including malfunctioning runway lights, according to officials.
“The Lynden Pindling International Airport is experiencing unprecedented levels of traffic and it seems as if when we get to this unprecedented level of traffic, and by that I mean in excess of 1,200 aircraft movements in a day, we are running into traffic problems,” said Dionisio D’Aguilar, the tourism and aviation minister.
“Then you put into that mix bad weather, we lost lighting on one of the runways, one of the intersecting runways for a short time and that has led to a backup at that airport.
“Air traffic control is saying they are working as hard as they can, as fast as they can, trying to move as many aircraft as they can, but it seems as if on these very busy peak days we are having a problem with dealing with that traffic.”
D’Aguilar said LPIA under its current operating procedure can’t cope on exceptionally busy days with this amount of traffic, “so we need to step back and see what we can do to mitigate these challenges that are arising because it is not pretty”.
Pointing to robust tourism performance in recent months, he added, “We are a victim of our own success.”
He said there were “a lot of annoyed and upset passengers” yesterday.
Late yesterday afternoon, Bahamasair released a statement advising that due to weather-related challenges, air traffic control held a number of flights on the ground.
“As a result of these air traffic control related challenges a number of our flights are now carrying significant delays, as well as our flight 320 which was returned to Freeport after holding in the air for 35 minutes,” the statement said.
Bahamasair said its schedule and the schedules of other airlines were impacted up to two hours.
“Furthermore, we regrettably advise the traveling public that some of our outbound U.S. flights may not be able to clear customs in Nassau and may have to be post-cleared in the United States,” the statement said.
“That said, passengers scheduled to travel on Bahamasair evening flights into the United States who are not in possession of a U.S. visa must contact the airline to confirm departure times and or to reschedule travel times.”
D’Aguilar said there is a need for better dialogue among the parties involved in airport traffic.
“I think what is happening down there, on the one side, NAD (Nassau Airport Development Company) is saying that the air traffic controllers are not working optimally. Maybe they’re spacing the aircraft too much… The air traffic controllers are saying for whatever reasons they have to do whatever it is they do,” he said, adding that as minister he has to be very careful how he guides air traffic controllers.
“I don’t want them to ever say that I told them to do something and it leads to some tragedy. They are the professionals. I am guided by them. I receive my advice from them, so if they’re saying they’re doing it as optimally as possible, I have to be guided by that.”
Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Union President Hinsey McKenzie said the airport has been seeing record breaking traffic in the last two weeks. He said the backup is the result of poor layout at LPIA and added that the challenges were greater as some of the airlines added additional flights for the holidays.
“LPIA is built in a way like a bottleneck so traffic wouldn’t flow in and out,” McKenzie said.
“We know that for a fact because the terminal has been built too close to the taxiway so traffic getting in and out is making it difficult.
“You have too many aircraft. I saw a picture earlier; it’s too many aircraft on the taxiway so traffic wouldn’t be able to flow into the ramp or out of the ramp.”
McKenzie said another challenge is insufficient staff working during the holiday period to handle the load.
“There’s no extra staffing that came out for the holidays,” he said. “A limited number of staff. There’s only so much you can do.”
D’Aguilar said after the Christmas and new year rush, all parties involved will come together to figure out how best to avoid a repeat of the situation.