Airport Hit By Delays

AIR traffic at the Lynden Pindling International Airport was hit by widespread delays yesterday, one of the busiest and most profitable days in the industry. Last night, carriers lamented costly delays in excess of two hours with a much broader impact on goodwill as customers suffered through grounded and returned flights. Executives at the Nassau Airport Development company pointed to flight congestion, and the saturation of Miami airspace, which resulted in a hold on traffic. However, a person close to the situation said that with the exception of a one-hour maintenance delay, at least five flights --from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Freeport -- were affected by the action of Air Traffic Controllers yesterday. It is understood that a US pilot arriving at Odyssey Aviation complained about waiting four hours for taxi clearance. A Delta passenger from Atlanta told of how many times they had to circle the airport and go sightseeing in the air before being given clearance to land. It was further reported that Pineapple Air had to refund two Junkanoo groups for the charter flights they had booked to Freeport because its aircraft was number 25 in line to taxi. The aircraft had to return to the gate after waiting more than an hour for clearance. The delays will also be costly for Bahamasair. Reports indicate the airline will have to provide ground transportation, meals and hotel accommodation for passengers who will have a lay over. It is feared passengers from Seattle, San Francisco and New York might not be able to get flights out before January 4. The long delays will increase the fuel bills for all airlines, including Bahamasair. Because of the public holiday, Bahamasair also will have a heavy overtime bill for ground crew, who will have to service flights finishing more than two hours after schedule. It was speculated last night that Flight 327 from Nassau to Fort Lauderdale by way of Freeport would be too late for US preclearance in Freeport, which would mean that passengers will have to clear US Customs in Fort Lauderdale. For Bahamians traveling on to Fort Lauderdale, unless they have a US visa, they will not be able to travel. Those Bahamians who are traveling on a police certificate only must pre-clear in the Bahamas. If this happens, then Bahamasair is obliged to house these passengers in Freeport overnight which will be another heavy cost for the airline. The industry was reportedly dealt a major blow over the Christmas weekend due to the work-to-rule initiated by bargaining agents, the Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Union (BATCU). The union ceased industrial action on Friday after two weeks, a decision that has been upheld according to BATCU president Roscoe Perpall. "The system is operating at capacity due to NAD's Phase 2 construction," Mr Perpall said. "There are no more gate facilities for airplanes to park. Several aircrafts are waiting for gates, but there is a lack of availability of gate facilities at this point." Mr Perpall explained that controllers were working to ensure optimum use of the airport, and highlighted that there has been a drastic improvement due to their concerted efforts. In a statement yesterday, NAD's vice-president of marketing and communications, Vernice Walkine maintained that "every effort" was being made by air traffic controllers to expedite flight arrivals and departures. Last night, Sky Bahamas chief executive Randy Butler said that pilots and crews were unconvinced that the labour dispute did not have an impact on yesterday's debacle. "This system runs like a science, it's planned," Mr Butler said. "It is always expected that New Year's or the day after is the busiest time of travel. There's just no excuse for that, no excuse ever." Mr Butler explained that delays on the runway account for up to 7,000 gallons of additional fuel. Paired with holiday wages and conciliatory items for customers, Mr Butler said that the labour dispute has challenged an already fragile industry and economy. "When you have people not enthused, this happens," he said. "I sympathise with them, it's bad that the air traffic controllers have to take this type of action to get their concerns addressed." However, Odyssey guest services manager Zelda Evans contended that the delays were largely due to the saturation of Miami airspace. Ms Evans explained that due to the proximity of Nassau and US airports, all flights must be cleared through the Miami flight centre after saturation levels reach a certain point. "This had absolutely nothing to do with the union," Ms Evans said. "This is one of the busiest days of the year for departures, everybody just trying to get back home and we had an exceptional Christmas/New Year season." Last night, staff within the department of Civil Aviation said they were to busy dealing with the influx of traffic to provide an update on the extent of delays.


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