The medical evacuation helicopter that services St. Eustatius and Saba was hampered in its night-time emergency operations late January because Statia’s F.D. Roosevelt Airport did not request an exemption to the aviation law in time.
Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops replied on Monday to the written questions Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Nevin Özütok of the green left party GroenLinks had submitted in relation to media reports late January that the medivac helicopter was no longer stationed in St. Eustatius at night, but in Saba.
Knops explained that two exemptions are necessary to carry out flights outside the regular opening hours of the St. Eustatius airport. Both concern the Caribbean Netherlands aviation law and it involves two separate articles of this law. Exemption to one article is to facilitate a broader use of the airport by the airport operator. The other exemption affects the airline.
The exemption for the airport operator lapsed in December 2017. The airport and the helicopter operator National Helicopters Inc. were informed earlier by the Inspection Living Environment and Transport ILT of the Netherlands of the timely request that was needed to extend both exemptions. They were also informed of the fact that without both exemptions, no use could be made of the airport for night-time flights.
National Helicopters Inc. responded in time and requested in November 2017 to extend the exemption. The exemption was granted for the period December 7, 2017 to December 1, 2019. However, an administrative check on January 21, 2019, showed that the airport had not requested an extension of the exemption after December 2017.
Both the airport and National Helicopters Inc. were immediately informed that without the exemption for the airport, the airport could not be used between 9:00pm and 7:00am. As a result, the helicopter was stationed in Saba during the night to not jeopardise the medical evacuation flights which are very important to transport critically ill patients to St. Maarten in night-time hours.
The ILT carried out an emergency procedure to handle the request St. Eustatius submitted on January 22, 2019. The temporary emergency exemption was granted on January 31, 2019, and is valid until March 1, 2019.
The emergency exemption was granted on a temporary basis due to the urgency of the situation and the impact for the residents of St. Eustatius and Saba. The request submitted by St. Eustatius will be formally assessed before March 1 prior to issuing an exemption for a longer period.
Knops explained that an internal investigation is taking place as to the reasons an immediate request was not submitted after the ILT’s first warning in December 2017. Statia’s government administration is being reorganised, including the work processes, as part of the supervision the Dutch government imposed on the public entity in February 2018 due to neglect of tasks. The processing of permits is part of this reorganisation, Knops stated.
Responding to Özütok’s question whether there have been medical complications as a result of the lack of adequate night-time emergency transport during that short period in January, Knops assured that this was not the case.
The Daily Herald.