GENERAL manager of the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago Hayden Newton on Thursday expressed extreme pride and gratitude in light of the Piarco Airport being ranked as the Caribbean’s best and cleanest airport, by the Skytrax World Airport Awards 2020-2021.
Newton told Newsday on Thursday that it was the culmination of teamwork and innovation that led to the airport being ranked among the best in the region and the world, despite several operational and financial challenges which came with covid19.
“This year was really important because we had issues with respect to covid and the pandemic. The other ranking which is important to us is the cleanest in the Caribbean. This ranking is really important for us,” Newton said.
Skytrax, through their awards, ranks airports worldwide. This year, Piarco Airport, normally ranking among the top ten in the region, was ranked number one in the Caribbean and number three in the Latin America/Caribbean region.
Airport’s Authority deputy general manager Emmanuel Baah said the award had a significant meaning especially during covid19 where the airport endured two shut downs and a severe reduction in revenue – about 95 per cent.
“Whereas some of the other countries had their borders open and their airports operating, the Tocumen Airport (ranked second) they continued operations. While there was a decline in revenue (for them) the relative fall that we experienced was unprecedented.”
“And yet, by working very closely with the ministry to work some miracles through close collaboration with the US embassy, the International Organisation for Migration the European Union, somehow we were able to collaborate even closer with stakeholders and manage the finances in such a way that, at no point there was any drop off in the level of security and cleanliness and the safety of passengers.”
Newton added that during the nation’s response to the spread of covid19, while revenues dropped dramatically, Airport Authority staff, more than 780 of them, were neither retrenched, laid off temporarily nor met with a reduction in salary.
It is not all clear skies for the airport, though.
Newton noted a high prevalence in vaccine hesitancy in Tobago despite staff having contracted and died from covid19. He said, however, through their policies of moral suasion, education, information and conversation, they were able to reach a prevalence of 60 per cent of staff taking the jab.
“As far as we understand vaccination is not mandatory. We know the Ministry of Labour is working on a national policy with vaccination and we are awaiting that. Outside of that, we are guided by the general policy that it is not mandatory. But there are things that you can do to encourage employees,” Newton said.
Baah added the authority got assistance in accessibility to vaccines from the Ministry of Works and Transport and was supported in encouraging staff through the unions. Hayden added that concessionaires and other businesses in the wider airport community also joined in the fight against the virus by participating in vaccination drives.
“Working with the Ministry of Health, we were able to get some of the well-known doctors from there to come in and speak to staff. We organised sessions with staff where some of these doctors would come in and answer questions of their vaccine and the importance of it. We did a similar exercise in Tobago,” Baah said.
Speaking on their award for the cleanest airport, the authority said it adopted a stringent risk-based approach to sanitation according to international best practices and health and safety protocols developed through the advice of the Ministry of Health.
All covid19 response systems were adopted, and the authority was also able to gain international accreditation from the Airports Council International Airport Health Accreditation Programme thanks to their health and safety measures.
Newton said, with the airport reopening to commercial airlines on July 17, airlines are slowly coming back to TT. Also with concessionaires resuming business, the airport is garnering revenue at between eight and ten per cent of their earnings prior to the first case of covid19 entering the country in March 2020.
Congratulating the authority, Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan said the authority’s success amid adversities should be used as an example.
He pointed out the aero park, which has been on the books for production for the last ten years, and businesses and concessionaires that are at the airport as possible sources of additional revenue in the event that another catastrophic event dissolves the main ones.
“This could not have come at a better time,” Sinanan said. “We know the airport had its challenges going back to the last couple of years, but the management and staff stuck to the task and, today, we could boast about being the number one in the Caribbean.
"For every crisis, there is always opportunity. So in case we have a crisis like this again, because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, the revenues at the airport could maintain some level of security.”
He said that notes on the construction of the aero park should be going to Parliament soon. He added that with the privatisation of ports, the port of Port of Spain may soon receive similar awards.
“I look forward to the day the port would experience a milestone like this. Because it is not impossible.”