Category I Hurricane

POSTED: 04/5/16 9:04 PM

The first idea that may come up when reading this heading is that this article pertains to the strength category of a hurricane. A Cat I hurricane we simply do not fear anymore in St. Maarten, as after Luis and Marilyn in 1995 we learned how to prepare. CAT I in this article has no relation to the tropical storms we face. Category I is the status our Civil Aviation Authority must have and maintain, if there is a desire by the country to maintain commercial flights to the United States or maintain codeshare arrangements with US partner airliners. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) assesses the ability of the country’s civil aviation authority to oversee air carriers in its territory. This ability is measured based on the compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards for the industry. The assessment is executed through the International Aviation Safety Assessment program (IASA) and focuses on eight (8) key elements of aviation safety as set forth in the ICAO Safety Oversight Manual- document number 9734. The eight (8) key requirements of compliance are:

1] Primary aviation legislation;

2] Specific operating regulations;

3] State civil aviation system and safety oversight functions;

4] Technical personnel qualification and training;

5] Technical guidance, tools and the provision of safety critical information;

6] Licensing, certification, authorization, and approval obligations;

7] Surveillance obligations; and

8] resolution of safety concerns.

The Netherlands Antilles enjoyed the category I status as being part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but that all changed in 2010 when Curacao and St. Maarten attained separate status within the Kingdom. The Curacao Civil Aviation Authority needed to undergo an inspection, and the deficiencies found resulted in a downgrade in 2012 to a category II status. This downgrade affected St. Maarten as well, due to the fact that the country’s the (PJ) aircraft registry prefix. Even though this downgrade does not affect flights in operation, it does mean that no new flights/service can be undertaken by airlines from St. Maarten to the US and its territories. It is therefore of essence that a category I status is regained, since our economic development is contingent hereon. In this context we must realize that this young country having assumed the Civil Aviation Authority for the first time after the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles, by far did not have the developed framework in place as was the case in Curacao. Yet with the limited means available the start-up of this entity commenced. The St. Maarten Civil Aviation Authority is functional today, yet not much attention is given to this entity. As a tourism destination and tourism being the main pillar of our economy one would think that the Government would take this matter on as a priority. The safety of our aviation industry is at stake here, yet we must fear that budget cuts may result in this matter not promptly being addressed. It is a known fact that many new authorities assumed since 10-10-10 placed a real burden on the country as many institutions were not present in the country before, the human resources and expertise often yet to be acquired. Yes we all know that Curacao did not keep its promises to help set up the many new institutions country St. Maarten would require, and may still not have transferred our share of the moneys out of the division of the Netherlands Antilles Estate, but if we follow the words of the Minister of Finance we can forget that our share will be released any time soon. So with a strapped budget, cuts left and right, healthcare requiring urgent attention, one can only assume that budget cuts will also affect the quest of the Civil Aviation Authority to regain a category I status. The hiring and training of staff may not be possible, the acquisition of equipment required may be delayed, the much needed regulations, which must undergo legal screening by Legal affairs, may follow a slow process as this division neither has the manpower nor the aviation expertise to truly execute a prompt screening. So how will this category I status be regained, if the importance hereof is not understood or simply mitigated? Yes we need to tighten our belt, but we also need to ensure that we are a safe destination for incoming and outgoing aircrafts, as we depend on this means of transportation for our entire socio-economic growth. The tourism industry- the aviation industry- brings us the much needed revenues, and these revenues will not grow if we are unable to meet aviation safety standards. If expansion of airlift to US territories is deemed part of our further development as a destination, then we need to get our priorities straight. So maybe it is time to set the politics aside. Budget cuts, should go hand in hand with the clearing of a polluted Government payroll, and hiring should be done in areas most needed. Maybe those still on the Government payroll who have not worked for the administration in years and are generating income through other jobs as well, should be taken off that payroll. In the interest of the country those who are needed and are willing to work should be hired. If a clean-up is undertaken this Government would be surprised at the amount of revenues it would have to hire qualified, young St. Maarteners who are hungry to contribute towards their country. Yet this clean-up should not be expected in an election year. Considering all the afore the question remains: “are the budget cuts undertaken the right ones, in the right areas, without creating additional liabilities?” For if these cuts are the sole basis for the Government to operate on a balanced budget, areas requiring urgent attention and staffing will be left unattended. Whilst balancing a budget on paper the reality will be that fragmented budget cuts will harm us in the long run, and will prevent economic growth. Category I will remain a desired status by the Civil Aviation Authority to be attained.

Ruth Patrick,

Operations manager Chamber of Commerce

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