Media tour reveals scope of airport reconstruction

Media tour reveals scope  of airport reconstruction

The check-in hall.

AIRPORT--The media were given a comprehensive tour of the Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) terminal building on Wednesday morning, a tour that was enlightening and honest in the admission of setbacks and oversights. Above all it gave realisation that a vast amount of reconstruction work is still to be done.page11b148.jpg
Project Director Mirto Breell gave an overview of the project before the tour. (Robert Luckock photos)


PJIAE CEO Brian Mingo (far right) talks with reporters on the departure hall upper level.


The screening area will have new scanning equipment to improve the passenger experience.


The departure hall will be completely re-tiled.

The projected full completion of the airport is April 2024 with many improvements and new technology incorporated. No doubt the finished product will be the envy of the Caribbean neighbours.

  The tour began with an overview given by Project Director Mirto Breell of the timeline of reconstruction since the passing of Hurricane Irma: recovery phase, the involvement of the banks, soliciting of funds, bidding processes, delays due to COVID-19 and lockdown, the different phases of reconstruction, demolition and details on construction, materials and technology.

  As Breell pointed out, reconstruction has provided opportunities to make improvements, maximise available space and discard ideas that did not work before. His overview was followed by a safety briefing for the journalists before entering the work areas.

  Upgrades include a stronger roof to withstand 185mph hurricane winds, enhanced entry doors, new terrazzo floors, updated building management system and better use of floor space. Passengers can expect escalators at all bridges, self-serve bag drops, and large flight information displays.

  Airlines will have new check-in counter designs, more office spaces, new elevator to their offices on higher levels, an additional cafeteria, and an airline baggage service office. There will be additional concession locations and more food and beverage areas.

  With concerns still present over the continuing Ukraine war impacting shipping of goods, Breell confirmed Ballast Needam is re-adjusting its sourcing of materials away from that particular region.

  “That’s been very fruitful. And it’s why we believe the 2014 target is still attainable,” he said.

   The US $154.5 million reconstruction project was signed with Ballast Needam in August 2021 before it took over the site in October 2021. The project is over a year in progress. Funding went through the kingdom of the Netherlands, the World Bank, European Investment Bank (EIB), PJIA and through the Trust Fund to repair the infrastructure of St. Maarten.

  PJIA Operating Company PJIAE Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Brian Mingo reminded that the size and cost of the project (contrasting with the $90 million in 2005) is justified by implementation of new technology, automation, security systems, biometrics, baggage handling systems and other additions such as more escalators, and more offices.

  “This is the last year the airport will be in this configuration, because next year the departure hall upstairs has to be finished. That means passengers will check in the existing area and go upstairs to a brand-new departure hall with shops open and jet bridges in place,” he said. Arrival hall and reclaim area are expected to be operational in early 2014.

  To show the market is recovering and to dispel rumours, Mingo said this coming weekend there are seven American Airline flights, up from three, and Spirit had announced it was going to add two more flights.

  “Normally on Saturday’s we are at the 5,000-passenger mark. Demand and market response for St. Maarten is increasing because we are also a hub for the other islands. WINAIR alone does 30 flights a day. The big picture for this year on numbers is 95% of 2019. This weekend coming, we are looking at 6,500 passengers, 1,500 more.”

  The walk-through began with the ground floor check-in hall, before going upstairs to see the departure hall and executive offices. Access to the upper floor is by escalators, stairs and elevator. More than 100 workers are employed on the project and flexibility is required to minimise reconstruction work clashing with airport operations.

  Mingo said the building’s capacity is for 2.5 million passengers, in and out, but he was confident it could go to a higher volume. He reiterated the focus is on getting the departure hall finished before next year’s high season.

  Just one third of available space is used for the regular airport operations while the traffic flow is practically the same as 2019. That prompted the question of how this high season is being handled.

  “The only approach we can do is tactical – all-hands-on deck, bottled water, Wi-Fi, music and can I help you? That’s how we are approaching this high season,” said Mingo. “We have a local team here supported by international experts. The airport can’t do this alone. We need the help of the government, stakeholders, and airlines. You need to have some patience. The project only started in October last year after a long lead-in time, a lot of push-backs and arguing that wasn’t needed.”

  The screening area on the upper floor will have a new CTIX 6040 machine that allows passengers to keep liquids and laptops in their carry-ons and shoes can stay on.

  “Installation of this machine will improve the passenger experience because you won’t need to put those things in a tray anymore and the other new scanning machine PPS 201 will be quicker. No more hands up, but hands down,” explained Breell.

  A new addition on the same floor will be a pet release room, something that was requested by the US carriers.  Ballast Needam is taking care of new IT and electrical infrastructure.

  The final part of the tour was a look at the executive offices area and airline offices, airport canteen and airline canteen. Restrooms throughout will be re-done and showers will also be available.

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