The Auguste George Airport on Anegada closed last weekend, but reopened on the morning of Dec. 6. (File photo: GIS)

The Anegada airport closed without warning over the Dec. 2-3 weekend after its fire truck was taken to replace a malfunctioning truck at the Virgin Gorda airport, but it reopened at 7 a.m. on Dec. 6 after the truck was replaced the previous day, officials said.

On Dec. 4, BVI Airports Authority Managing Director Kurt Menal described the closure as a “temporary mitigation measure” that was decided after careful thought.

“Various scenarios were explored to arrive at this decision, each of which underwent a thorough process of risk assessment,” Mr. Menal wrote in an email. “In the interest of the territory as a whole and in consideration of the above normal flight schedule in Virgin Gorda over the weekend, the option to relocate the appliance from Anegada to VG was taken until the crucial part is replaced.”

Medical flights

He added that officials also considered the potential need for emergency medical care on Anegada.

“As such, approval was sought to allow medevac flights to service Anegada if required during the temporary closure,” the managing director wrote.

“The available [fire] extinguishing agents at the airport [were] also augmented as a further safety measure.”

Mr. Menal added that the replacement part needed for the VG fire truck had to be imported, but he described it as a “high priority.”

“The expectation is to have it in Tortola as soon as practicable,” he wrote. “The authority is also in the process of procuring two additional fire tenders, one of which should be in place by end of January.”

Public announcement and reopening

The only public announcement of the closure seen by this newspaper was an advisory that the Department of Disaster Management circulated at noon on Sunday to explain that medical evacuations would be allowed to proceed on Anegada despite the closure.

In a statement issued at 5:14 p.m. on Dec. 5, Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer announced that the fire truck had been returned to the Anegada airport and the facility had reopened.

He did not say whether the replacement part had arrived for the VG truck, but Chief Information Officer Desiree Smith confirmed that the VG airport remained open as well. Mr. Rymer apologised to the Anegada community.

“Your understanding and patience during this transitional period in our services have not gone unnoticed and I extend my heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you for your resilience and cooperation,” he said.

Previous closures

The incident marks at least the fourth time this year that one or more of the territory’s airports has closed without notice.

On May 26, all the territory’s airports closed the day after American Airlines tested its new direct service between here and Miami.

Officials denied online reports of a strike by air traffic controllers, but Mr. Menal explained at the time that the facilities were forced to close after the BVIAA “could not satisfy the minimum requirement in staffing levels to ensure continuous operations of the control tower in accordance with applicable regulations.”

Blown tyre

On June 3, the Beef Island airport closed again — this time two days after American Airlines launched its new direct service to Miami.

“The closure was forced when a cargo airline blew a tyre upon landing at the airport,” the BVIAA announced that day, adding, “The aircraft is currently disabled on Runway 25.”

The airport was reopened by the next day — only to experience further issues with the “irregular operation” of an American Airlines flight to Miami.

Mr. Menal said at the time that the June 4 delay “was as a result of the prevailing winds and high temperature.”

Third closure

On July 17, all airports closed again, with the Beef Island facility reopening that evening and the Virgin Gorda and Anegada airports remaining closed until the next morning.

At the time, the BVIAA provided few details about the reason for the closures, and it did not confirm or deny online reports of a strike by firefighters at the Beef Island airport.

It did, however, acknowledge “operational issues within the fire service” on Beef Island, which it said led the BVIAA to reallocate manpower from the VG and Anegada facilities.