Something is terribly wrong at the territory’s airports, and the BVI Airports Authority owes the public a full and candid explanation.
On July 17, for the second time in less than two months, the airports closed with no notice amid unconfirmed reports of a strike — this time by firefighters on Beef Island.
After a very similar closure in late May, officials strenuously denied reports that air traffic controllers were striking — instead offering a vague explanation about “staffing levels.”
This time, they didn’t even bother responding to the strike reports, but their excuse for the closures was similar: Two vague BVIAA statements blamed “operational issues within the fire service.”
When this newspaper asked for more information, the agency didn’t respond. Government Information Services, meanwhile, buried its head so deep in the sand that in the middle of the closures it issued an unrelated press release about the recent launch of a Winair service between here and Antigua.
This is no way to handle a national crisis. When a jurisdiction’s airports shut down, the closure should be announced and explained immediately — not hours later, as happened July 17. Closures, after all, pose a monumental inconvenience to travellers. The one last week reportedly caused an American Airlines flight to be diverted to Puerto Rico and stranded other passengers in place.
Worse, airport closures also pose a risk to national security, and they can be exceedingly dangerous for people needing to travel in an emergency.
Moreover, if airport firefighters did strike, they probably broke the law: For good reason, the 2010 Labour Code prohibits strikes in “essential services” including fire-and-rescue, transportation and port services. Such industrial action, then, would also have been a matter of clear public interest that should have been explained straightaway.
The current government scored a major victory by bringing direct flights from American Airlines in June. But unannounced airport closures and other bumbling are likely to scuttle that deal in a hurry.
The BVIAA and central government alike need to take responsibility for the ongoing issues at the airports and explain exactly what is going on. Then they must detail their strategy for the way forward.