AIRPORT–A new wind is blowing at Princess Juliana International Airport N.V. PJIAE, with news this week of a major boost in the company’s plans to return the facility to one of the busiest air transit hubs in the Northeastern Caribbean. The “shot in the arm” comes from this week’s ruling by an arbitration panel awarding the airport more than US $71 million in an insurance claim following the passage of Hurricane Irma almost two years ago.
While much of the awarded sum has already been received as an advance payment and has been used, the remaining settlement now seems likely to provide the wiggle-room that PJIAE chief executive officer (CEO) Brian Mingo has been seeking to speed up the progress of restoration works. The funding for critical projects that were sitting on the shelves as recently as last week, before the arbitration ruling, has now been officially announced.
Alejandro Montenegro Díaz
“Momentum, momentum, momentum – that is the one word our partners have been escalating to us during these past months,” said Mingo, reflecting on the arbitration ruling’s significance. “You can build a lot of momentum with $71 million, the insurance settlement PJIAE was awarded, if the balance will be received within the next few weeks.”
Without the availability of additional funds, other than those already negotiated as loans, the prospect of returning the airport to its glory days was very bleak, he said
One major challenge has been the significant increase in demand for travel to St. Maarten during the first half of the year, which caused cramped conditions, long passenger queues and flight delays
“Passengers using the terminal building and other PJIAE facilities have every right to get impatient and frustrated … with the seemingly lack of progress in getting back to normal, but I can assure them that the hold-ups are beyond our control and that the management team and I are personally ready to step up our pace of restoration and renovation,” said Mingo
He added that with additional funding to call on, some of the overcrowding issues at the airport terminal building can be dealt with immediately to create a better passenger experience and open up newly-renovated areas of the facilities for both passengers and management to utilise further
Mingo said PJIAE will be celebrating a major milestone in terms of its reconstruction efforts at month’s end, when contractor Ballast Nedam completes all three reconstruction phases of the terminal building’s roof. This includes the installation of roof profiles, panels, bull-noses and soffits, along with major reinforcements and waterproofing to withstand hurricane-force winds and rain
When Ballast Nedam withdraws from the job site, PJIAE’s management team and contracting partners will be putting the finishing touches to the planning of the tendering process for Phase II of the airport’s reconstruction. This is scheduled to be underway by October.
However, Mingo cautions that meeting this new milestone will depend on all funding arrangements being in place within the coming weeks, including receipt of the remaining settlement from insurance company NAGICO
“We have creatively dealt with the financing part of the airport’s restoration with the support of the government of St. Maarten, the Kingdom government, Schiphol aviation specialists, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, notwithstanding the support of the bondholders. Furthermore, this could not have been done without the support of our valued staff, Supervisory Board of Directors and executives of Princess Juliana International Airport Holding Company (PJIAH),” he said
Mingo says his task now is to build the required momentum to complete the formation of the management team, as well as making the terminal hurricane ready, implementing the PJIAE Project Team and support teams, engaging with stakeholders and ensuring technical project support, increasing capacity for passengers in the terminal building, and rebuilding the Rescue and Firefighting building. All of these plans should be put in place without delay, he said
PJIAE’s management team will also be working on a new business model, which will be formally introduced in 2020, with a focus on PJIAE re-enforcing its position as a major economic driver for St. Maarten’s economy
“Once the bidding process for the reconstruction is completed (January to April 2020), and Phase II of the reconstruction works gets underway, and we maintain a momentum with regular phased exposure of completed projects and stages, I anticipate a major shift in investor confidence, locally and internationally, toward our island
“I see a new climate of investments being created for the economy that I am personally very excited about and so is the executive team. We are continuing to put all our efforts into delivering a new PJIAE product – by building the state-of-the-art ‘airport of the future.’
“With a new wind blowing, our new airport will once again be the regional leader, with a focus on pride for the entire St. Maarten community,” concluded Mingo