Fresh start

Fresh start

Confirmation that the reconstruction of Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) will be completed by October (see related story) finally brings an end of the proverbial tunnel into sight, after seven tough years with a makeshift facility. The Hurricane Irma-damaged terminal was fixed in phases with means from – among others – the Dutch-sponsored Recovery Trust Fund administered by the World Bank, with involvement of industry professionals from the main airport in the Netherlands, Schiphol.

The destination is known for repeat stay-over guests, so many experienced the ongoing process and changes first-hand when arriving or departing. One has to say that despite occasional complaints about long waiting lines in some cases even outside on the tarmac under a hot sun, visitors were generally understanding of needing time to bounce back from such a devastating cyclone.

Still, to think this situation had no negative impact on the tourism economy at all would be naive. As caretaker Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Grisha Heyliger-Marten noted during her visit to the airport last Friday, American Airlines increased its direct flights to Anguilla and other neighbouring islands, while travel from Puerto Rico to St. Barths is a growing option.

Those developments undoubtedly affect PJIA’s hub function. The latter is important also for local carrier Winair, the ferries, taxi drivers and businesses catering to regional shoppers, to name a few.

Nevertheless, the moment has come to close this unfortunate chapter in St. Maarten’s aviation history and move on to start the next high season fresh, with renewed optimism. However, it’s crucial that along with the building, also personnel are part of the improvements.

This goes not just for those employed by the airport itself but also others working there, including Immigration officials, to prevent highly undesirable issues like a go-slow on Saturday, the busiest day of the week, ahead of Memorial Day in the US.

It’s about much more than brick and mortar.

The Daily Herald

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