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Building back for the recovery of aviation

Peter Hall, Chief Operations Officer for MBJ Airports Limited, outlines how the company managed during the COVID-19 crisis and how they are planning for the future.

Building back for the recovery

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, MBJ sought to engage the airport community by conducting sensitisation sessions in partnership with the local health authority and airport stakeholders.

The borders were closed for approximately two months in 2020 and MBJ used this time to prepare for the recovery and implement a COVID-19 response plan, not just for MBJ, but to guide the operation of all agencies operating at the airport. The aim of this plan was to ensure a safe environment for staff and the travelling public; therefore, this plan was instrumental in providing information and guidelines on the new protocols implemented at the airport to establish consumer and public confidence.

As the airport planned for re-opening, our core operational objective was the health and safety of our passengers, staff, and wider community. MBJ Airports Limited (MBJ), the operator of the Sangster International Airport, implemented elevated safety protocols covering communication, screening, and sanitisation at the airport:

The wearing of a mask became mandatory along with the installation of plexiglass protective barriers to minimise direct contact between passengers and staff at check-in, boarding, and other processing points throughout the terminal

  • Hand sanitising stations were installed throughout the terminal for passengers and staff, frequent sanitation of touchpoints and increased frequency of cleaning and maintenance of air‑conditioning systems
  • Airport staff are screened by way of temperature checks to gain terminal access.
  • Capacity control was also introduced whereby only passengers or those helping as required were able to access the terminal
  • Thermal scanning and monitoring of all arriving passengers and staff were implemented by way of temperature checks to gain terminal access
  • Communication in the terminal was done via signage and over the public address system, while the public was kept informed via press releases, social media, and MBJ’s website
  • Passenger processing was altered with plexiglass shields between passengers and staff and passenger touchpoints reduced, along with floor and seating social distancing markers placed throughout the terminal
  • Touchless technology was also introduced to increase efficiency and reduce contact:

Passengers were encouraged to use their electronic devices to check-in online and use digital boarding passes at the airport.

Arriving passengers were encouraged to complete the immigration and customs form online and the use of contactless card readers was encouraged among our retail concessions in facilitating monetary transactions. Prior to the pandemic, MBJ had numerous projects planned for execution over a five‑year period. One of these projects, the development and expansion of the departure lounge and retail space, commenced in February 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. We saw this as an opportunity to start this project at this time with little or no traffic, as otherwise, it would have been very disruptive in the height of the busy season. The works will result in the expansion of the circulation space within the departures waiting area and retail space. Some of the new shops have opened while others are under construction to be opened by year-end and early 2022.

While as a company we have always provided support to the staff and community, the need has been greater during the pandemic”

Along with the departures retail expansion, the following projects commenced during the COVID-19 pandemic and are currently underway:

  • Installation of new chillers to improve cooling throughout the terminal
  • 1MW solar project with an additional 2MW to be installed
  • Expansion of taxiway echo to be completed by the end of 2021
  • Runway extension project.

Other major projects that have been completed in the last few years at MBJ include: an upgrade to the check-in area, along with the installation of 1MW of Solar PV, automation of the car parks, rehabilitation of the taxiways, upgrades to the baggage handling system, and the well water project. Other expansion works to the terminal were postponed due to the pandemic; however, they will be revisited in the coming months to determine which projects are prioritised based on traffic. MBJ is grateful and excited that despite the ongoing pandemic, passenger traffic remains on a positive trajectory, and we can continue with prioritised development works during this time. The airport staff and community in which we operate, is also one of MBJ’s top priorities. While as a company we have always provided support to the staff and community, the need has been greater during the pandemic. MBJ provided staff and some communities with care packages and made well-needed contributions to the local public hospital. MBJ has a keen interest in outreach programmes for children and with this in mind completed some works on an Early Childhood Centre in a local community, to assist the institution with being fully registered during the pandemic and continue to provide support for the development of the children and the wider community’s human capital. While some of the social support normally provided to the wider airport staff were not possible due to the distancing requirements, MBJ continued to keep the staff engaged and informed on staying safe and healthy during the pandemic. As part of the efforts to help keep staff healthy, the exercise classes for all airport staff with a fitness instructor continued and MBJ collaborated with the local health authorities to host sensitisation/information sessions, as well as a vaccination day on airport for the convenience of staff. The MBJ team maintains a close relationship with our stakeholders and continues to provide them with the necessary support as we collectively work through the impacts of the pandemic. While we have all been impacted greatly by COVID-19, traffic through MBJ has been increasing month over month with traffic levels currently at 70 per cent of that of 2019. Considering that we are a destination airport and markets such as Europe and Canada have been closed for some periods, the performance was good. Also, during the pandemic, MBJ welcomed several new non-stop schedule flights to three new routes by a new carrier, Frontier Airlines from the U.S., weekly service by Edelweiss from Zurich, and Eurowings Discover from Frankfurt. MBJ is honoured to be named in the awards below during the years 2020 and 2021:

  • First airport in the Caribbean to obtain the Airport Council International (ACI) Airport Health Accreditation
  • Conde Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Awards 2020 – ‘Top 5 Best Airports in the World’
  • World Travel Award 2021 – won 14 times, 13 consecutive years 2009-2021.

MBJ‘s commitment to ensuring a safe, passenger-centric, sustainable, and efficient airport operation is evident in the renovations, upgrades and expansion being undertaken to develop the airport terminal into a modern and functional international facility, bringing us closer to becoming a leading destination airport, exceeding the expectations of our passengers, while being uniquely Jamaican.

Biography

Peter Hall has been with the Sangster International Airport for over 25 years. He has experience in customer service, operations and now oversees the security function and is also the Chief Operations Officer. Hall is well known for his expertise in investigation and aviation security. His co-operation with law enforcement stakeholders has been unrelenting in assuring the security of the airport and stakeholders alike. While he is known as a firm individual that displays the outmost professionalism and integrity, he operates on the basis of equity and fairness in all matters relating to staff, clients, passengers, and the public.

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