Hurricane Irma struck and devastated St Maarten on September 6, 2017. Damage to the SXM Airport is forecast to cost millions and officials estimated complete recovery to take up to 35 weeks.
“The Airport infrastructure was not spared from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma. The management of Princess Juliana International Airport Operating Company N.V. PJIAE has adopted a disaster recovery plan to address the issues required for the resumption of civil and cargo flights into St Maarten as soon as possible,” the Minister of Aviation Mellissa Arrindell-Doncher said to the local paper.
She added that while she understands the frustration of residents abroad wanting to come home and those in St Maarten wanting to leave, the normalisation of commercial flights cannot commence until the airport is fully ready to service these flights. The Airport, she explained, falls under several regulations in terms of safety and operations of international flights.
“We cannot jeopardize the status of the airport and that of St Maarten by rushing operations at the airport,” she said.
Preliminary damage included the entire perimeter fencing destroyed and all four jet bridges sustaining substantial structural damage. All runway and taxiway lights and precision approach path indicators were also destroyed. Additionally, approximately 75 per cent of roof sheeting and insulation was destroyed in the terminal building. The ceiling is exposed, with areas that are severely cracked exposing the inside of the terminal to outdoor elements. Water could be found on all four levels of the terminal.
Many of the sheetrock wall partitions accumulated water and are water damaged. Build-up of mould throughout the terminal is visible and all ceiling tiles on all levels were damaged by the water. Additionally, all four curved entrance doors to the terminal were blown inward into the building.
Inside the building there is physical and water damage to all sections, including but not limited to the public announcement system, telephone, check-in areas, airlines’ back offices, airport executive offices, security offices, airlines’ reservation/ticket kiosks, tourist booth, car rental booth, food courts (on level 0 and 1), concessionaire offices and leased spaces, Customs office, baggage claim area, automated Border Control E-Gates, Automated Passport Kiosks, Bar Code Border Pass E-gates, terminal seating, common use terminal equipment (CUTE) and common use self-service (CUSS) kiosks, all departure sections, extensive water penetration in the baggage handling area on level 1, departure section and “employee screening” areas.
The Minister explained that the airport is insured with a local insurance company and, given the magnitude of Hurricane Irma’s impact to the island, adjusters have been flown in to assist the Airport in the management, preparation, quantification and resolution of its claims as a result of Hurricane Irma.
She said key points of priority have been established particularly by and between the Airport’s Finance Department and other relevant internal departments so that orders for equipment, parts and material for reconstruction can be placed timely to prevent any further delays in reaching 100 per cent operational mode soonest. Airport management will follow an established recovery process, executed in phases, with the aim of quickly resuming normal operations.
The Minister estimates that SXM Airport will not be back at full operation capacity “in all its glory” for another 35 weeks, but will be able to function optimally much sooner than that.