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NMIA shutdown was planned

Hours after images and video of a traffic snarl along Palisadoes Road in Kingston had gone viral on social media, the operators of Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) sought to allay concerns about a power outage at the facility which resulted in flight delays.

The concerns followed on the heels of recent complaints from various travellers about the lack of proper air conditioning and the state of the bathrooms at the facility, as well as issues with flies and mosquitoes in the building. Many of the complaints have been posted on social media.

PAC Kingston Airport Limited (PACKAL) said in a statement that the most recent issue at the airport was due to planned maintenance of one of the main switch gears central to the facility’s power distribution system.

According to PACKAL, the maintenance required a full shutdown of all power systems including standby generating systems. It said the shutdown was scheduled for 9 p.m. on Thursday to 3 a.m. Friday. However, due to a challenge in restoring power to a critical piece of equipment, power distribution to airport systems was not restored until three hours later.

Yesterday afternoon, in response to PACKAL’s explanation of what took place, Daryl Vaz, minister of science, energy, telecommunications and transport, described the delays caused by the planned maintenance activities as issues that “shouldn’t happen in today’s world”.

Vaz said he would be conducting a tour of the facility next week to inspect the plant and its operations, in reaction not just to Friday’s power shutdown but the previously expressed concerns of persons utilising the airport.

“It is to look at some of the issues and the complaints that have been coming in from stakeholders there and also passengers, both in terms of the condition of the Norman Manley Airport, and obviously some technical issues as well,” he told The Gleaner.

Vaz noted that he had not yet ascertained the full impact of Friday morning’s delays, as he was awaiting an official report on the incident.

Palisadoes main road closed

The outage affected an incoming JetBlue Flight and check-in and departure of six flights. For safety precautions, police had to briefly close the Palisadoes main road to approaching vehicles, which led to the traffic pile-up.

PACKAL, however, stated that these maintenance services are usually seamless.

“This type of servicing is planned well in advance because it requires a full shutdown of all power systems, including standby generating systems, flight information systems and requires coordination with airlines, SITA (multinational information technology company) and other airport stakeholders including the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the Jamaica Public Service Company and the specialist electrical engineers who undertake maintenance activities and/or repairs which may be needed to the switches. Our regulator, the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority, was duly informed and gave its non-objection,” it said.

PACKAL said a bulletin about the planned outage was also issued to the airport community on July 14 which informed them that the airport would be closed to the public during the shutdown.

“All stakeholders were required to vacate the airport by 20:00 July 20, 2023 and advised that the airport would re-open following the restoration of power. The Terminal and airport premises generally were cleared of all non-essential staff in keeping with the plan and the maintenance operation commenced,” it said, stressing that there was no ‘systems failure’.

“PAC Kinston Airport Limited sincerely apologises for the delays and inconvenience experienced by our valued passengers, stakeholders and the public. We wish to reassure the public, however, that there was no ‘systems failure’ as had been reported in some areas of the press. Power has been restored and flights are being processed. The traffic has been cleared and operations are returning to normality,” it added.