Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) was in the news quite a bit last week. On Wednesday it was reported that the runway capacity is nearing its limit during peak hours in the busy winter period’s high season, based on a study by the Netherlands Aerospace Centre NLR together with Air Traffic Services (ATS).

On Thursday readers learned that an arbitration panel had awarded the airport operating company an insurance settlement of US $71 million, of which $58 million had already been paid as advance. The next day NAGICO Insurances announced it would respect the ruling and trusted “we can now move on” with the terminal’s rebuilding.

However, the latter is apparently going to take a while longer. During Friday’s urgent plenary session of Parliament, it was stated that – once the financing has been formalised – the tendering for the next reconstruction phase is now expected in early 2020, while the target for such had earlier been the end of this year.

This bidding process may require three or four months, to be followed by up to 18 months of actual work. Do the math and it should become clear that – realistically – the renewed airport won’t be completely ready until the end of 2021 at the soonest.

Even that schedule was placed in doubt by United St. Maarten Party leader Frans Richardson, questioning whether it isn’t too ambitious. Hopefully he will be proven wrong, because not having the island’s main gateway entirely available is negatively impacting continued restoration of the destination’s tourism economy.

Every effort should therefore be made to in any case limit the number of high seasons left without SXM airport back in full operation to two (2019/2020 and 2020/2021), preventing a third (2021/2022). And as this is all going to take some time, it would indeed be prudent to add provisions for United States pre-clearance, even though it’s strictly not part of the project for which a loan from the European Development Bank (EDB) and grant from the Dutch-sponsored St. Maarten Recovery Trust Fund of $50 million each were approved.

Perhaps the extra $13 million in insurance proceeds received can be used for that purpose and so kill two birds with one stone.