Monday, March 14, 2016

Row erupts over South Caicos airport safety

InterCaribbean Airways has slammed "unreliable” safety and "disruption” at South Caicos Airport.

On Monday (March 7) the TCI based airline issued a statement expressing their dismay at the state of the Rescue and Fire Fighting Service (RFFS) at XSC.

They said they had made numerous attempts to have the RFFS upgraded to enable them to use their Embraer E120 aircraft, all of which were denied, and that on March 3 all flights were suspended due to issues with safety equipment.

The statement said: "We, like the travelling public, are dismayed with the state of the Rescue and Fire Fighting Service at South Caicos.

"The unreliability of the RFFS has been ongoing for nearly two years now with acute unreliability/un-serviceability or reported sabotage of equipment in recent weeks which have severely impacted our ability to deliver reliable air service to the community of South Caicos and to support the recent spike in travel to the island due to the opening of the resorts there.

"During the last two weeks alone we have made numerous request to have the RFFS upgraded to enable us to operate into South Caicos with our Embraer E120 aircraft which have all been denied.

"We have inquired of Turks and Caicos Airport Authority (TCIAA) what is really happening and why they are not able to ensure a reliable RFFS but have not received any satisfactory response or explanation.

"It was only on February 29 that TCIAA CEO advised us that the RFFS vehicle was fully repaired, yet two days later our request to upgrade flights was refused on the grounds that TCIAA was not able to provide the requisite RFFS service for the E120.

"Finally late on Friday, March 3, we received information from them that ‘due to loss of Rescue and Fire Fighting coverage ALL flights are suspended’.

"Suffice to say the TCIAA CEO has not responded to our last request for updated information, so we are not in a position to advise when normal flight operations to/from South Caicos would resume.

"We find it ironic that the TCIAA chooses to issue a press release (without copying InterCaribbean), while it fails to adequately communicate with InterCaribbean as a principal stakeholder at the airport.

"Equally alarming, and of particular note is the fact that this is not the first time in recent weeks the TCIAA has said that the RFFS equipment has been sabotaged, but yet we understand an offer to provide safe guarded overnight secure parking for the equipment was declined by the Airport Authority.

"When all this is taken in context, one may reasonably conclude that providing the required RFFS and thus keeping the airport operating at South Caicos is of a low priority to TCIAA.

"We call on the Government and the TCIAA board to examine the matters surrounding the RFFS at this airport and to provide an account to all stakeholders as the steward of this public

The statement was issued in response to an incident last week in which fire trucks at the airport appear to have been deliberately sabotaged.

The TCIAA appealed for information to help catch the culprits but the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force said the matter has not been reported to them.

A statement issued by the TCIAA refuted the accusations put forward by InterCaribbean.

It said: "It is unfortunate that a release was made that did not state the facts at hand.

"The facts of the matter are, that there was no suspension of normal flight operations into South Caicos on neither this weekend nor the weekend prior.

"The Turks and Caicos Islands Airports Authority has made a release to inform the public of their inability to upgrade from a normal category three operation which currently accommodates all domestic aircrafts except for the Embraer Aircraft.

"This was due to past sabotage, which is outside of the control of the TCIAA. It is indeed emphasised that flight operations continued by both domestic airlines during the period in question contrary to the press release sent out by an airline.

"On March 4 the TCIAA in collaboration with the TCI Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was successful in the full restoration of the upgrade from the category three to category four to facilitate the operations of the Embraer in question. Measures have been put in place to prevent further damage from reoccurring.

"The regulators, CAA travelled into South Caicos on InterCaribbean’s first flight and returned to Providenciales on the last flight, indicating that operations were normal at this time on Friday.

"The TCIAA remains committed to operating in a safe and secure environment and to be in compliance with all safety standards and procedures as set by the regulators.”

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