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We’re in need of a new airport terminal – now

I have paid particular attention to the debate that is taking place throughout Bermuda with respect to our airport facilities.

Most of us transit the airport and cannot deny it is an embarrassment to the rest of Bermuda.

Our airport is our most vital lifeline to the outside world. It transports people to and from the island, which is essential to the viability of our economy.

As such, I asked myself, is our airport sustainable? In other words, can it continue to service the public and our clients, tourists and business travellers at a reasonable and expected standard of service compared to jurisdictions similar to ours?

The question is, do we all really know the conditions of the airport? So I took it upon myself to visit the airport and met with operational management, who accompanied me on a tour and discussed cost and operational information.

Management pointed out to me, which was obvious, that their team has had to operate the ageing airport with insufficient funds and limited manpower resources for many years.

The patching and mending has become less and less effective, which has resulted in conditions that make the airport vulnerable to the potential of fire, wind and water damage. I was most impressed with the “can do” and “make do” attitudes of the management and staff.

I therefore thank them for their efforts because until the final decision is made to build a new airport, we hope that the existing terminal can hold together and that there are no unexpected circumstances that could produce a national disaster through closure.

Following are some of my observations and thoughts:

1) Should airport users expect to have water leaking through roofs and windows, and be subject to smells and mould caused by the antiquated potable water and sanitation infrastructure, and structural water damage?

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Should we shut the airport terminal to deal with longstanding termite infestation in the wooden floors, roof systems and windows that were built in the middle part of the last century? And the lack of jetways/jet bridges increase the safety hazard and overall operational liability when disembarking on windy and rainy days. Is this how we want to welcome our foreign guests and residents alike? Is this how we want to treat our most vulnerable: infants, seniors and the physically challenged? As mentioned, that we are subject to liability in the event of an accident because of such conditions.

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Is it appropriate for arriving passengers to be queued in narrow, cramped hallways and at times lines backed on to the apron as they wait to be processed?

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Is it appropriate to have arriving passengers queue on the apron so as not to mix with departing passengers, who are boarding an aircraft parked at an adjacent gate?

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2) In the existing facility, will we be able to meet the ever-changing International Civil Aviation Standards, which are becoming increasingly more stringent owing to changes in the mandated regulatory requirements, such as environmental sustainability, passenger and staff circulation, health and safety, safety management systems, disabled persons' access requirements, and public security protection measures and protocols?

3) Because of global warming, hurricanes are predicted to be more frequent and more intense. Already, as has been evidenced by previous hurricanes, the airport is particularly vulnerable to the storm surges produced by hurricanes, as the facility is only slightly higher than high-water mark, and water trapped by the Causeway has no escape option but to flow right through the terminal building. In the event of a catastrophic hurricane, there is a high probability that the existing airport will have to be temporarily closed for repairs or condemned completely.

4) We have problems both above and below ground, so is renovating the terminal a long-term and cost-effective solution to mitigate these significant impacts? Could we renovate the airport terminal only to have it wiped out by a hurricane because we cannot raise the existing structure any higher? Would renovating the existing facility make the building more efficient in terms of energy savings? Will it be able to meet increasing regulatory scrutiny, and industry and user expectations?

5) Is the entire physical plant of the airport terminal fundamentally and functionally obsolete, and does it need to be replaced?

The answer is yes. We need a new airport terminal, and support infrastructure, now.

Having come to this conclusion without hesitation, the proposed new airport being facilitated between our government, Canada and the private Canadian company Aecon merits fair consideration.

Aecon has been selected by the Canadian Government, the lender, with its remit to design, finance, build and operate the new airport for the next 30 years — the like of which has been done in many other destinations.

The merits of the long-term conditions can be determined only when the details of the project are made public.

Contracts are never negotiated in public, anywhere in the world, but the results are made public and therefore details and conditions are open to scrutiny and comment. That is when we should make our views known.

Sir John Swan was the Premier of Bermuda from 1982 to 1995

To view a chronology of the airport, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”

Vital lifeline: we need a new airport, our contributer argues (File photograph)

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Published May 02, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated May 02, 2016 at 8:45 am)

We’re in need of a new airport terminal – now

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