Caribbean Netherlands airports only partially ICAO-compliant

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.

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