Front Page
September 13, 2011
Union Island airport upgraded, as fire truck returns

Flights of SVG Air into the Union Island airport should have resumed yesterday afternoon.{{more}}

SVG Air, which operates daily flights to Union Island from the E.T. Joshua airport, had suspended flights to the Grenadine island last week Wednesday.

Managing Director of SVG Air Paul Gravel told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday that his company had suspended flights into Union Island because the airport had been downgraded from its usual category three status.

Rumours had been circulating over the last few days that the Union Island airport had been closed. However Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security Godfrey Pompey told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday that the airport was never closed.

“It was downgraded, because of the capacity of the fire truck,” he said.

Pompey explained that Union Island is normally a category three airport, but when the regular fire truck had to be sent to mainland St. Vincent for servicing, and a smaller truck was put in its place, the airport was downgraded.

“Smaller aircraft can land, but not the larger ones,” Pompey explained.

He, however, reassured the public that the larger fire truck left St. Vincent on Monday morning and was on its way back to Union Island on the M.V. Barracouda.

“The boat should reach there by 3:00 p.m, so category 3 should be operational later this afternoon,” Pompey said.

“As soon as the fire truck is at the airport, we are back into Union,” Gravel told SEARCHLIGHT.

Gravel, in explaining why his company had suspended service to Union Island, said the aircraft operated by his company to that airport are 19-seat twin otters.

“Once you are a commercial service with that size aircraft, it is compulsory that you have a Category 3 fire truck.

“Once you remove that fire truck and put a category smaller than a three, you have to cancel the commercial service. We didn’t even know that the fire truck had been pulled out and a mickey mouse fire truck had been sent down. It is only by accident that we discovered that,” Gravel said.

“The moment we know, we are in violation of our permits issued by Antigua. So, they said that you cannot go in, as fire coverage is not adequate,” Gravel added.

While Gravel did not explain who he meant when he said “Antigua”, the ECCAA is the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) institution responsible for regulating aviation safety and security within the OECS member states, in accordance with international standards.

Pompey, who is also Deputy Chair of the Antigua-based Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) said no such advice was given to SVG Air by ECCAA.

“Maybe by his insurance, but not the Authority,” Pompey said.

Pompey declined to comment on whether SVG Air had been notified about the larger fire truck being sent to the mainland for servicing.

Gravel is, however, adamant that his company had no other choice but to suspend flights.

“It is not us saying we are trying to prove a point. We will lose our licence and get fined by the authorities if we had done otherwise,” he noted.

“Because the moment you know, you cannot claim ignorance. But we should have been told that the truck was not there in the first place,” the SVG Managing Director reiterated.

Gravel said his company also operates a nine-seater twin-engine aircraft, but that aircraft also requires Category 3 fire service.

“There was nothing else we could have put into service. We do not operate single engine airplanes.”