AIRPORT—Airport (PJIAE) Management confirmed to Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic & Telecommunication the Honourable Stuart Johnson during a surprise visit last week that the temporary tents presently in use for arrival and departure will start coming down on December 15 when the scheduled return of its operation to the main terminal building takes place.
After being closed for 15 months, the terminal building will open with thirty-two check-in stations in a fully enclosed and fully air-conditioned non-smoking environment, several concession outlets, including most of those that operated pre-Irma. There will be around seven hundred (700) seats at the departure lounge, and the departure area will be able to accommodate up to 1300 people, which is 5 times the number of people presently being accommodated in the temporary tents. The Departure Lounger will also be able to handle seven major departures at once using six departure gates. There are dozens of new bathrooms throughout the terminal building for guests as well. One significant improvement from the past 15 months for residents is that those awaiting the arrival of friends and loved ones can now do so in an enclosed air-conditioned arrival area.
Minister Johnson said on Sunday, “With the many concerns being expressed over the airport’s readiness, as shareholders representative I visited the airport unannounced and made it clear to the management that the deadline for the opening of the main terminal building must be met.”
He said, “We simply cannot accept any excuses for delays without consequences. The future economic revitalisation of St. Maarten depends heavily on our ability to complete the airport.” He said once phase-one of the reconstruction is completed, the intention is to move swiftly into the next phase. “Ultimately our goal is to get to the stage where we have completed all repairs and ultimately realising US-Pre Clearance. This will be complemented by increased airlifts which we will complement the opening of hotels and the improvement of economic activity on the island for our people,” said Johnson.
Airport management says while some of the amenities to be added for departing passengers may not be fully installed by the opening date, bids are already in from local companies for WiFi service and there will be dozens of charging stations for smart devices along the rows of chairs.
Additionally, vendors are making their final preparations to be ready for the December 15th opening and have been granted 24-hour access to their stands to allow them sufficient time to prepare.
The Chief Operation Officer (COO) of Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) Michel Hyman and his operation team along with contractors received the surprise visit from shareholder representative Minister Johnson on Wednesday, December 5th, just ten days shy of the Airport’s management planned move back to the Main Terminal Building, and two days after it celebrated 75-years of service.
Johnson and members of his cabinet were met by top airport officials and Rob Noorman, Project Manager for the airport’s reconstruction. Noorman and Airport COO Hyman confirmed that they were on track to move into the main terminal on Saturday, December 15th. Hyman said the HVAC has been cleaned by the airport staffed and remediation has also been completed. The first phase of reconstruction will be complete with a First-Aid Room both for outbound and inbound passengers. There will also be a departure check-point, a transfer and lost baggage area and two functioning conveyor belts for baggage. It will also have a VIP lounge/Stateroom, over 75 CCTV’s, several offices and a cafeteria for airport staff, immigration offices, and will have Customs and Security Check Points and a search room.
Johnson received a full tour of the building and also climbed eight levels of the scaffolding to the roof of PJIA to see the progress of reconstruction. The roof which spans over five football fields according to Riverclack Roofing experts will take over nearly 700 sheets of specialised galvanise to cover it, the longest being 74 meters. They will use more than half a million screws, nuts and bolts to complete and secure the roof. Riverclack had to install an 18-ton machine at the top of a contain tower which is noticeable at the side of the terminal building from the main road, which fabricates the roofing sheets. It takes fifteen men to transport each sheet to their designated area because of their length and to prevent them from bending. Hyman said 80% of the airport’s roof was destroyed during the 2017 hurricane and it was not a simple process to repair. The contractors told Johnson the importance of having the sheets fabricated in an area where they can move straight into position is based on their length and quantity. The experts from Riverclack said based on the size of the airport’s roof which is the largest on the island, it was just not possible to prefabricate the 39-centimetre sheets and ship them. Also, because there can be no overlapping of the roof sheets, as the new roof is designed to withstand category five hurricane, it increased the need to have the 18-ton machine on hand. When completed the airport would have perhaps the most durable non-concrete roof in the region.