Airlift vital to recovery process St. Maarten

SXM Airport — Just as airlift is vital to St. Maarten’s tourism economy, so it is for the recovery process to normalize the situation on the island, to fly in aid and relief goods, food and water, to evacuate tourists and other temporary visitors, workers and their families and to offer an escape for those in urgent need of medical care, for those with young children and elderly family members and for those who have lost everything on the island during the passing of Hurricane Irma.

Although the SXM Airport was badly damaged, the clean up of the runway was quickly organized and military aircrafts, such as CC-130 Hercules aircrafts, and humanitarian flights were soon landing on the airport. The Dutch Marines moved quickly to put the airport under military command. The Minister of Justice approved a list of airlines that would be allowed to land at the airport to fly out passengers.

Luckily,Air Traffic Controller Tower SXM Airport with Coast Guard the air traffic control (ATC) tower did not incur any major damage. With the assistance of the ATC in San Juan, Puerto Rico, flights were quickly organized into SXM Airport. Military aircrafts could be seen landing daily into St. Maarten and many evacuation flights were executed. Even pets and other animals managed to be evacuated by caring travelers departing the island.

Many news and camera crews arrived on the island on military aircrafts. Initially, mainly from Curacao and Holland on Dutch Marine and Coast Guard aircrafts as his royal highness, the King of the Kingdom of The Netherlands arrived on St. Maarten on Monday night with the press in his entourage. Quickly, other press agencies, including CNN arrived on the island.

On Thursday, September 14th, a news crew from ABC News flew in from Puerto Rico on a private charter operated by Tradewind Aviation with the assistance of AirStMaarten and Halley Aviation Services. If St. Maarten was not already on the map, it is definitely now at the center of world with millions of viewers getting daily reports on the devastation caused by one of the most powerful hurricanes seen in the past 30 years with record-breaking storm statistics. The damage is already estimated to be well over 2,5 billion US dollars.

An image that will remained ingrained in the minds of many people is that of hundreds of people queuing up to be evacuated off the island. This situation has left many with mixed feelings ranging from anger to despair to sighs of relief. Long lines formed for days after the hurricane at the SXM Airport. The military exercised strict control over the situation and at no time did things get our of hand at the airport. So far all people stranded on the island have managed to be evacuated. Either via Curacao to The Netherlands or via San Juan, Puerto Rico, to the USA.

Local airline company Winair, despite having undergone complete devastation of its head offices at the SXM Airport leaving only the mangled remains of the structure behind, executed evacuation flights to Antigua for passengers connecting to the UK and also to St. Kitts and later to Saba and St. Eustatius.

Noteworthy, is the actions of the Dominican airline company, PAWA, that flew non-stop after the hurricane to fly in aid and relief goods and to evacuate and repatriate Dominicanos living on St. Maarten with their MD80 aircraft.

Other airlines operating evacuation flights were American Airlines, Jetblue and Delta Airlines. Also many private jet aircrafts were seen landing and taking off from the SXM Airport as well.

It is clear that the SXM Airport, despite the crippled infrastructure caused by the damages to the main terminal building’s arrival and departure halls, is playing a vital role in getting people out of the country and the necessary aid, help and relief into Hurricane Irma Damages SXM Airportthe island.

With the demand for more airlift in the form of military, humanitarian, commercial and private flights, the military and the local authorities will have to make all efforts to get the SXM Airport fully operational again and this port will be critical to the recovery and rebuilding process St. Maarten will have to undergo to allow the flow of cargo, tourists and US dollars back into the country and into the island’s local economy.

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Terrance Rey
Terrance Rey is owner and managing director of Let’s Travel, Travel Anywhere and AirStMaarten. Terrance Rey has 15 years experience in the travel business as a travel agent, tour operator, charter broker and as an internet travel entrepreneur. You can email Terrance Rey directly via terrance@anykeyservices.com with any questions you may have relating to St. Maarten/St. Martin.
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