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Sep 13, 2017

Maya, Tropic Adamant over Caye Caulker Flight Suspension; Repairs Will Take Months

Both local airlines, Maya and Tropic Air, have announced the suspension of flights to Caye Caulker beginning this October.  The airstrip at La Isla Carinosa is in terrible state with potholes and ridges which make it dangerous to maneuver the landing of aircrafts. It is projected that it will take eight months to complete repair works which means that the tourism destination will not be accessible by air for months. So will this impact the island? News Five’s Isani Cayetano finds out.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The utter state of disrepair of the asphalt runway at the Caye Caulker Airstrip has forced both Maya Island Air and its competitor, Tropic Air, to discontinue flights to that destination as of the end of September.  The landing strip at the southern end of the island is in deplorable condition and presents a hazard for aircrafts coming into and leaving the aerodrome.

 

On the Phone: John Greif III, President, Tropic Air

“There are only two real problems with the runway itself, but they’re big ones.  The ground that the airport was built on sinks and so the runway has undulations in it.  So the pilots already have to land at a certain place and avoid this and stop before that, to keep from making a rollercoaster ride out of the takeoff or the landing.  That was manageable, but what has simply become unmanageable is that about every ten or fifteen years these asphalt runways have got to be resurfaced and the time is up for Caye Caulker, so there are potholes and ridges and essentially obstacles in the way.  So the pilot can’t dodge both, he can’t dodge the ups and the downs and the potholes and the deterioration in the runway.”

 

Those difficulties have prompted a suspension in air traffic to and from the island pending the repair and upgrade of the landing strip.  Orlando Magana is with the Belize Airports Authority.  That body is tasked with overseeing the upkeep of those facilities.

 

Orlando Magaña

Orlando Magaña, Administrative Manager, BAA

“The runway is in a really bad state, that Tropic and Maya have issued a press release [stating] that they will stop operations commencing October first.  But even prior to them issuing this press release we have been in negotiations with the Belize Social Security Board to acquire financing to repair and renovate and uplift because of the Caye Caulker aerodrome, I believe, is the third most trafficked aerodrome in the country.”

 

That’s on account of the tourism industry.  A majority of flights heading to and leaving from the island are indeed booked by visitors to the country.  Despite consultations with the relevant government agencies, both carriers have decided that they will no longer risk a problematic landing.

 

On the Phone: John Greif III

“We have been in consultation with the Department of Civil Aviation and the Belize Airports Authority and they knew that we were closing, so I think they had sped up their plans to do some renovation there.  But the industry just couldn’t wait any longer, we had to put a cap on our operations there for safety reasons.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“Now the proposed project will take a maximum of eight months before it completes.  What happens in the interim, in terms of you guys losing money from the suspension of flights to the island?”

 

On the Phone: John Greif III

“Well, the bigger problem is what happens to the commuters and to the tourists that need to go there.  Caye Caulker is well served by both from the municipal for the commuters but I don’t think it’s that very well served or not served at all from Goldson for the tourists.  So that’s something that really has us at Tropic perplexed about what alternative service do we offer people that have already bought tickets on the airline.”

 

Realizing that the inconvenience will directly affect the tourism industry, the Belize Airports Authority is already looking at ways in which it can expedite the renovation project by reducing its timeline.

 

Orlando Magana

“Tourism is increasing every year so we need to have these facilities up to standards, up to international standards.  So based on those considerations it’s being a full investment of about seven million [dollars] is being proposed to uplift and to renovate the aerodrome at Caye Caulker.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“Talk to us about the timeline and the scope of work and priorities that fall under that particular timeline to get this runway up and running again.”

 

Orlando Magaña

“Well as soon as the loan gets approval from social security, works will commence immediately and the proposed time limit for everything is approximately eight months.  The runway being the one that needs the most attention, will be dealt with first.  So the contractor, whoever is contracted to do the works will, we will negotiate with the contractor to see how best we can do the runway first in as least down time as possible.”

 

With progress comes problems.  The improvement of the airfield on Caye Caulker is much needed, but for the duration of the project residents, those who either commute daily by domestic flights or those in the travel business, are the ones who will be inconvenienced by the suspension.

 

On the Phone: John Greif III

“As far as affecting our profitability, it really doesn’t because Caye Caulker, in the airline business, is what we call a flag stop so when there are people there we drop off and pick up and when there aren’t we don’t.  So it really, if we don’t have people to pick up in Caye Caulker we just backfill the flight from San Pedro or Municipal.  So the economic impact on the airline is minimal, but the economic impact on the island would be substantial, I would think.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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