Princess Juliana International Airport operating company PJIAE said on Friday that the airport is preparing for a safe and phased reopening to major airlines. While several airlines have scheduled flights to St. Maarten in June, the airport is still awaiting official clearance by government.
“Major airlines are keen to resume flights to St. Maarten … after receiving multiple enquiries from major carriers, including American Airlines, Delta Airlines and JetBlue. They are all eager to once again land at St. Maarten … during the month of June and onward.
“The airport has been in hibernation mode since the third week of March, following a lockdown order by government to contain the spread of the coronavirus in St. Maarten. As the government continues to relax its containment measures, management and staff of PJIAE are looking forward to resuming operations as soon as allowed by the St. Maarten government,” said PJIAE.
Royal Dutch Airlines KLM is the most recent international airline to schedule flights to St. Maarten in June, following on the heels of Delta Airlines and American Airlines earlier this month.
The Daily Herald understands KLM is seeking to operating a weekly flight from St. Maarten to Amsterdam via Curaçao on Fridays, and this service would start as early as next Friday, June 5. However, like all other airlines, KLM must wait for clearance from the St. Maarten government.
According to PJIAE, some airlines were even seeking to resume flights this month. “However, due to the local lockdown and St. Maarten’s readiness, they were informed that they would have to wait until the lockdown was lifted before a firm date could be given,” PJIAE.
“We set a target for mid-June to have everything in place to begin inviting airlines back to St. Maarten. All we need now is the green light from government to open up and officially begin a planned, controlled, and phased return of airlines and passengers to our entry port,” said airport chief executive officer (CEO) Brian Mingo, adding that PJIAE has established a COVID-19 taskforce to create measures to ensure a safe environment for travellers and airport staff.
According to Mingo, the first phase of the airport’s reopening would be to allow flights to the “domestic islands” – Saba, St. Eustatius, Bonaire, Aruba and Curaçao – as well as other neighbouring Caribbean islands with no active coronavirus cases, such as Anguilla and St. Barths.
A second phase could cater to international airlines such as KLM, Air France and Air Caraïbes, which depart from airports in the Netherlands and France, said Mingo.
The third phase would open the airport to the United States (US), Canada and other Caribbean destinations. This would be followed by Latin America as the fourth and final phase.
“During all the phases, there can be restricted countries which would not be allowed travel to St. Maarten, or with required procedures, depending on government’s assessments of the situation pertaining to the containment of the virus,” said PJIAE.
PJIAE’s coronavirus taskforce seeks to create a safe airport environment by implementing airport safety protocols, including the mandatory use of face masks covering the mouth and nose; continuously monitoring safety protocols in coordination with airline and airport partners; an awareness programme on social distancing for passengers and employees; mass fever screening stations; mandatory hand sanitising stations located throughout the airport; regular disinfecting of hard surfaces throughout the day combined with deep cleaning regimens during low capacity hours; and high quality plexiglass barriers separating front-line staff and passengers.
Other measures include requiring online health declaration cards to be submitted boarding a flight to or from St. Maarten.
“Based on regular discussions with the airlines, they have expressed satisfaction with the planned preventative and safety measures put in place, and that these measures are aligned with their measures, covering the entire passenger journey while at St. Maarten,” said PJIAE.
In all, the “new normal” will be a totally different travelling experience for passengers.
“At all stages, passengers, employees and crew members will be required to undergo screening, adhere to sanitising protocols and any other safety measures required by airlines or airports, such as wearing masks,” said Mingo.
“The COVID-19 task force has been in constant contact with airport partners and airport authorities throughout the hibernation period to find out what the best practices might be for small airports like St. Maarten with high passenger traffic.
“The task force has also worked closely with government departments so that there can be a coordinated approach of all sectors of the St. Maarten community once flights to the island resume,” said PJIAE.
“While airlines are knocking on the door requesting a date for the airport’s opening, the public can be assured that all contingencies are in place in collaboration with government and other partners in the airline industry to ensure the reopening of the airport is controlled and offers the highest level of safety to everyone,” said Mingo.