Management and maintenance of airports in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba are not in order, as a result of which these aviation facilities are not completely compliant, or threaten to be non-com-pliant, with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulations.
This is stated in a national safety assessment by Netherlands Aerospace Centre NLR, drafted on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management I en W. Because Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba are part of the Netherlands, they arc included in the June 2022 report which Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Mark Harbers recently sent to the Dutch Parliament. The NLR called it “unacceptable” that the Caribbean Netherlands airports do not entirely comply with international safety standards. Six risk scenarios were identified during the safety assessment, which, in the opinion of NLR, should get the most priority.
Aside from partial noncompliance with ICAO safety standards, the airports on the islands lack a dedicated Search and Rescue (SAR), there is insufficient (quality) supervision, emergency plans are not totally implemented and not well-communicated between the different departments, the ICAO guidelines are insufficiently included in legislation for the Caribbean Netherlands, and there is a limited level of the so-called “just culture.”
“ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) describe the internationally agreed upon safety regulations. Not complying with the ICAO SARPs is not acceptable. High priority should be given when it is concluded that the ICAO SARPs are not complied with,” it was stated in the report under the Caribbean Netherlands chapter.
The lack of proper funding of the Caribbean Netherlands is a contributing factor. “Money for management and maintenance is insufficient. On a yearly basis, there is a shortage of 700,000 euros per airport in St. Eustatius and Saba, and for Bonaire there is an annual deficiency of three million euros,” it was stated in the report.
Backlogs at the three airports were tackled in the past 10 years. Investments were made in infrastructure, but no full content is given to the ICAO SARPs. It was stated in the report that the Netherlands is responsible for the correct implementation of the ICAO requirements in the Caribbean Netherlands Aviation Law and associated regulations.
According to NLR, the ICAO SARPs must be included in the legislation that regulates aviation in the Caribbean Netherlands. “As long as this is not the case, there are too few instruments to guarantee that the ICAO SARPs are being complied with. Non-compliance is unacceptable.” Search and Rescue services cannot prevent accidents from happening, and they cannot always save all lives in case of an accident, but having an adequate SAR service is a “best practice,” to which NLR attached “high priority.”
The limited “just culture” is a risk factor in the Caribbean Netherlands. A just culture is a culture whereby individuals can report incidents without being punished or negatively assessed unless it concerns gross negligence or a criminal act.
A just culture is an important aspect of a safety conscious organisation, NLR stated. “It contributes to the willingness to report safety incidents, and therefore, to the learning process of an organisation. A limited just culture prevents an organisation from learning from mistakes, as a result of which dangers can exist without these being specified and reduced. This can lead to all kinds of accident types.”
The just culture as a risk scenario received a high priority stamp because it influences the work of executing personnel in all risk-carrying activities (flight execution, air traffic control, aircraft maintenance, aircraft handling). According to NLR, the islands’ culture can also influence the just culture.
The lack of quality of supervision is what NLR called a “latent factor,” which means that it is hard to pinpoint how high the risk of accidents is, because the danger is far from the accident.
The inadequate quality of supervision was qualified as a high risk because it affects the safety of almost all aspects of the aviation system. For the Caribbean Netherlands, a complicating factor is the fact that supervision over air traffic control is executed by the Curaçao Civil Aviation Authority.
Emergency plans firstly cannot prevent accidents from happening and they will not save lives in all cases. That limits the direct effect of emergency plans on safety. Nonetheless, these plans are important in cases of investigation after an accident, and with insufficient investigation, risks cannot properly be identified and tackled.
Specifically for Saba, the crosswinds at the runway were mentioned as a risk scenario. “Strong crosswinds can lead to problems in flying the aircraft during the take-off, and especially during landing. Often, strong crosswinds are accompanied by wind gusts.”
Crosswinds, according to NLR, can result in damage to the aircraft and what is called “abnormal runway contact,” loss of control in the air or an undershoot. It should be noted that aircraft operations are suspended to Saba in case of (strong) crosswinds.
For Saba and St. Eustatius, extreme weather conditions with high wind gusts and large amounts of rain can hinder aviation traffic, and extreme weather conditions, including hurricanes, can cause great damage to the airport infrastructure.
The Daily Herald.