Major Safety Concerns At VC Bird Airport

Major Safety Concerns At VC Bird AirportMajor Safety Concerns At VC Bird Airport

Antigua St. john’s – The deadly plane crash at the VC Bird International Airport might be fading in the minds of many, but the investigations have continued without letup.

The findings have reportedly uncovered several major, but long-ignored, safety concerns at the airport that have reportedly long been ignored.

Caribarena has learned from well-placed sources within the VC Bird International Airport (VCBIA) that the ongoing probe may result in a notable shakeup of the manner in which the airport operates, with the aim of correcting the issues identified.

Among these concerns is a three foot drop-off at the end of one section of the runway, equipment failure, and in some cases the absence altogether of such needed equipment.

Further, it has been noted that if these concerns are not addressed, Antigua may lose its FAA (US Federal Aviation Administration) ranking – which could result in the suspension of international flights to the island; a move that would practically “kill” the island’s “already struggling tourism product.”

The source indicated that despite numerous attempts by airline operators and other aviation stakeholders to have these concerns addressed over the years, they have for the most part been ignored.

“There is a 3 foot drop-off at the end of the runway, left there because it is basically unfinished,” the source said. “Just recently the Air Traffic Control union highlighted this safety concern.” This, he explained, means that if an aircraft were to overshoot the runway, such an event would be nothing short of disastrous.

Our contact further pointed out that despite known equipment failure and other safety concerns, employees are the ones being cited for infractions when they occur. “In the case of the recent crash, Air Traffic Control staff felt they were being made the scapegoats. However the preliminary investigation cleared the tower staff of any culpability in the crash, and leveled it down to water-contaminated fuel,” the source said.

The prolonged absence of a windsock, (a device at the end of the runway, which indicates to pilots the wind direction and strength) has also been noted. This device has only recently been installed. “This was a serious safety infraction that was ignored for years, but was rectified after the crash of Air Montserrat. Sometimes it comes down to a tragic circumstance occurring before action is taken in this country. We are reactive and not proactive,” the source opined.

Caribarena spoke with acting CEO for the Antigua Airport Authority, Edward Gilkes, who confirmed that there is indeed a drop-off at the end of one section of the runway. But he stressed that this particular section is not currently in use, and there are strict guidelines regarding such. He however noted that the matter is currently under review and the runway (now part of the project managed by a Brazilian contracting firm) is set for completion in early 2013.

Gilkes confirmed that the windsock, which was not in place at the time of the deadly Fly Montserrat crash, has since been installed a little more than a week ago.

In the meantime, the unfinished ramp is being described as an eyesore to passengers disembarking and boarding flights, with water settling in the open garbage-strewn trenches that pose a hazard to the engines of larger aircraft.

“Animals constantly penetrate the airport fence and end up on the runway, preventing planes from landing and taking off. The close proximity of the main road to the airport fence and runway has seen cars bursting through the fence on an almost weekly basis. In a recent incident an SUV went through the fence and came to a halt mere feet away from the runway,” the source said.

Regarding the Air Traffic Control tower, Caribarena has been told that the navigational and radio equipment used by the tower is “antiquated” and often breaks down. “No efforts are being made to fix this equipment, even though other air traffic control towers in the region utilize touchscreen digital communications technology. In an age that is digital, the tower at VC Bird is still using unreliable analogue systems,” Caribarena’s source revealed.

But Acting CEO Gilkes says this matter falls outside the scope of the Airport Authority and is actually one for the Government of Antigua & Barbuda to address.
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