St Maarten airport progresses on recovery

St Maarten’s Princess Juliana International airport is slowly on the mend, even as it could take up to a year before a reconstructed passenger terminal is up and running.

The airport, famous for its spectacular aircraft landing approaches over a nearby beach, had its terminal building extensively damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Last week, the airport upgraded its makeshift passenger hall to a new temporary pavilion with check-in counters and food and retail shops.

“It has all the required amenities while we go through the construction,” the airport’s chief operating officer Michel Hyman tells FlightGlobal at Routes Americas in Quito.

The airport terminal sustained severe wind, water and salt damage from the hurricane, with terminal equipment destroyed and about 80% of its roof damaged. The airport is demolishing the remains of the terminal and reconstructing a new building, in a process that could take nine to 12 months, says Hyman.

“We plan to move back into the terminal in phases,” says Hyman. To date, the airport has rebuilt a barrier around the airport to replace its damaged perimeter fence. Hyman estimates that the airport, which is state-owned but privately run, would have to fork out about $ 100 million for repairs and reconstruction. It will fund the work with insurance claims and loans.

The airport has seen about a 70% decline in passenger traffic since the hurricane. “It’s coming back gradually, but most of the legacy carriers are operating at a reduced schedule,” says Hyman.

Capacity to and from the airport is down about 75% this month, compared with August 2017 before Hurricane Irma hit, FlightGlobal schedules data show. Capacity will rise later this year as the summer travel season peaks. However, capacity in August will still be down 60% from what it was a year ago.

The airport is prepared to offer incentives to airlines to attract them to add service, says Hyman. “We plan to have one-on-one meetings at this [Routes Americas] conference to reach out to these airlines,” he adds. “If there’s a need for incentives, we are prepared to offer them.”