As Hurricane Danny Approaches Island Airports Prepare for Their Critical Mission

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Even though Hurricane Danny is expected to weaken to a tropical storm before hitting the Caribbean, airports in the region are busy putting their sophisticated disaster plans to work, prioritizing on post-storm recovery. St. Maarten Princess Juliana Airport (SXM) is a good example and it has been successful in restoring air service capability within 24 hours.

When disasters loom on small islands, generally the news is all about the crush at the airport as tourists scramble to get out before it hits. Few know about the back story – what goes into getting the airport back in service as quickly as possible and it all comes down to advance planning and being pro-active.

Hurricane Danny's trajectory has Caribbean airports preparing. Source: Red dots are hurricane strength. Yellow are tropical storm strength.

Hurricane Danny’s trajectory has Caribbean airports preparing. Source: Red dots are hurricane strength. Yellow are tropical storm strength.

Larry Donker, director of operations at SXM airport indicated that disaster planning starts before the season even hits. “We have to be prepared early because the airport is critical infrastructure to connect us to the rest of the world,” he said. “This pro-active approach ensures maximum preparedness.”

Hurricane Danny is set to hit the islands on Sunday. Source: NOAA

Hurricane Danny is set to hit the islands on Sunday. Source: NOAA

The critical role the Port Au Prince airport played in relief missions was aptly illustrated after the fatal Haitian earthquake, but hurricanes are an annual threat for which airports like St. Maarten must prepare. Having been through numerous blows in the past 20 years, SXM knows how important recovery is.

“Building standards have advanced substantially, making hotels, businesses and residences much stronger in withstanding hurricane winds so evacuation is not as necessary as it once was,” said Donker at a recent briefing in the Air Traffic facility at SXM. “What we are more concerned with is getting the airport back up and running as quickly as possible and we know we can do it within 24 hours. You have to remember that aviation is critical to national and economic survival following a disaster. It is essential for receiving and sending aid and it will determine the outcome of the recovery.”

In addition to being critical infrastructure for aid, airports offer a convenient logistics hub, a secure area and a helicopter base for rescue operations.

On the cusp of the most critical part of the 2015 Hurricane season, SXM has seven hurricanes and tropical storms in its rear-view mirror from which to take lessons, the worst of which was Luis in 1995 and Lenny in 1999, making SXM expert in hurricane preparedness.

St. Maarten has three phases to its disaster plan starting with coordination with local disaster management authorities in advance of an impending storm likely to affect the island. Phase II starts within 24 hours of the storm hitting and Phase III, of course, is the aftermath.

Phase I and II can effectively be called preparing and battening down the hatches, removing any loose infrastructure and debris from roofs and other airport property, cleaning out drains and ditches, storage of equipment such as maintenance vehicles, airline containers and baggage carts as well as aircraft. This is all part of the overall securing of the property and accompanies notifying airport stakeholders of the impending emergency.

Securing the airport covers items that one may not think of such as the chiller facilities, ensuring all pumps and generators are functional and fuel tanks are full. In addition, it also means securing the obvious – jet bridges and airside floodlights and other infrastructure that could be damaged. Each department has its own checklist to secure buildings and the airport itself including computer equipment and office space.

Also key is communication and flight coordination with airlines, aircraft owners and key media to ensure efficient operations as well as notification that the disaster plan is in effect.

There comes a point, though, when all is secure and airport air traffic services must be suspended. Employees are then released to tend to preparation of their personal property. However, a core team of airport and air traffic services personnel remain to weather the storm and to prepare for re-opening. Personnel volunteer to remain at the airport and are chosen based on their relevant skills and experience.

After the storm, there is an equally intricate plan to get the airport back in operation, including ensuring the accessibility of the airport from surrounding roads. Personnel immediately start the inspection of the airfield and facility, damage assessment and documentation, and prepare to resume operations. Airports place a priority on runway cleanup, fencing security, equipment assessment and a detailed chain of reporting to the airport director to determine when the airport can be re-opened.

Once all is in place, the airport director can then open the airport prioritizing on disaster recovery missions before opening it up to normal aircraft operations.

Can new business aviation models fill in the void left by regional restructuring?

U.S. mainlines and regionals restructuring has left many points that were once the bread and butter of the regional airline industry without service. In Part 3 of my series for Centre for Aviation, I discuss whether or not new shuttles and air taxi models can help small communities regain air service.

I would love to start a discussion on this. Here is part 3 of my CAPA series. Regional Airline Restructuring Part 3: Will new business aviation models win premium air travellers?

Battle for Seattle — Airline Economics

The subhead for this blog is Unconventional Wisdom About Aviation and the article I wrote for Airline Economics magazine certainly qualifies. It questions Delta’s moves in Seattle and suggests both will win as Alaska is a survivor. It also notes how much leadership Alaska has in the industry which, frankly, is very under-reported. I’ve been following the airline for decades and Alaska was the genesis of the industry transformation that occurred in the last decade. I would love to start a conversation around this.

So, click on the link and go to the MARCH/APRIL issue (second one down) and then flip to page 40 and engage in the conversation. Cheers — Kathryn

Abolish Lanyard-Style Name Tags with Cool Airplane Pin

Okay, I’ve just returned from a conference where they offered the typical lanyard-style name tag that ends up dropping down to the belly. I don’t know about you but that makes it hard to read, not to mention a little awkward when you bend over to get a better look. During another conference a friend of mine (thanks Cassandra) turned me on to a great little product that solves the problem and I thought I’d share it with my readers.

It is an eyeglass holder from Just pin your name tag to this pin and problem solved. Your name is off the belly and easily readable — including the fine print.

Here’s what I bought:

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 1.57.59 PM

There’s also lots of other cool jewelry for men and women on the site.

Let’s start a trend!

Collecting Data Means More Business for Biz Av

Anyone following business knows how important data is to future success but as the world gathered at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition, the subject took on new meaning for the entire industry. Collecting mission data illustrates what business aviation is really about and will help in dispelling negative stereotypical images. We must all do our part in spreading the word.

Here’s my latest editorial on the subject in FlyCorporate: