PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — Independent Member of Parliament Christophe Emmanuel on Wednesday said that a letter from the St. Maarten Airline Handlers Association (SAHA) and its Airline Operating Committee (AOC) is the biggest indictment yet presented against CEO of the Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) Brian Mingo.
“When the representative of all major airlines, your most important stakeholder, decries working conditions that go against basic principles in aviation, then it is past time that you pack up and leave or the airport holding board finalizes his dismissal,” the MP said.
On February 22, the AOC sent a letter to Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs drawing her attention to what it termed an urgent matter regarding the airport’s reconstruction project. Most notably, the AOC mentioned compromising of airline safety and security and requesting a clear statement from PJIA of how increased fees were used by PJIA. The letter was also sent to Parliament, the Minister of TEATT, the CEO of PJIA Brian Mingo and the holding board of the airport.
MP Emmanuel said the AOC pointed out that airline and handler staff is still housed in sea containers that serve as offices for the past three years and, based on a recent update by PJIA on new offices, could be still in these containers for another 3 years. “They clearly told the Prime Minister that the working conditions at this point are unacceptable,” the MP said.
“Even more scary, the AOC told the Prime Minister that the ongoing poor working conditions can lead to lack of employee focus, leading to poor judgment resulting in an increase in human error that can potentially jeopardize operational safety and security. On top of that they can’t apply the rules and regulations for COVID-19 (social distancing) which puts the staff at an increased risk of contagion,” the MP said.
SAHA in its letter to the PM also echoed the MP in terms of revisiting the entire reconstruction project. “When I speak, some say I am fear-mongering. But this isn’t me speaking now. I want to quote the SAHA verbatim: “Safety and security departments in all companies operating at PJIA are becoming more concerned and as such SAHA is raising the alarm to urge PJIA management for a complete revision of the priority settings stages of the reconstruction plan.” So our major airline handlers are telling you to revisit the project. I said to scale back on the necessities only. This includes taking care of employees,” the MP said.
The MP said according to SAHA in 2019 the industry, through consultation with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and PJIA, agreed to increase the airport improvement fee. This fee is paid by airline customers and is between US $5.50 to $11.00. In 2020 PJIA indicated that traffic volumes were lower than anticipated and as such the fee was raised to US $12.50.
“PJIA told SAHA and by extension the airlines, that these fees were urgently needed for the reconstruction. With the reconstruction in the state that it is in, SAHA like the rest of us want to know where and how the money was spent. How embarrassing it is that the Prime Minister of a country has to get such a letter. Which clearly means that the CEO and board of PJIA have not been communicating nor have they been transparent with their most important stakeholders,” the MP said.
“This is the biggest indictment yet against the CEO along with the letter from employees who want him gone. Hopefully the airport holding company finalizes his dismissal and that of the supervisory board sooner rather than later,” the MP concluded.