NMIA improvement well under way, says Vaz

MINISTER of Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport Daryl Vaz has said a revised concession agreement between the Government and PAC Kingston Airport Limited (PACKAL) for the operation and maintenance of Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) in Kingston is “now in effect” and should ease grouses over the running of the entity and the infrastructure.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday, Vaz said the revised concession agreement was taken to Cabinet and approved and has allowed PACKAL “to continue on the performance clauses… and also the short-term remedies” for the airport, which is the second largest in Jamaica.

PACKAL has operated NMIA under a 25-year concession agreement since 2019 and has the responsibility to operate and maintain the entity, improve the efficiency of landside and airside operations, finance and complete the planned modernisation programme.

One main deliverable under the agreement, at a cost to the concessionaire, is completion of the planned modernisation and expansion of the airport. However the COVID-19 pandemic side-swiped those plans, leading to some amount of disgruntlement amongst stakeholders.

Addressing the issue during an open forum in August, Vaz said there has been a “multitude of challenges that seem to plague the airport” but there should be a “willingness to do whatever is necessary to address them and mitigate against recurrences”.

In referencing the revised concession agreement which was, at the time, heading to the Cabinet, Vaz said “once that is done and signed it will pave the way for PACKAL to do and live by that arrangement. It is all outlined in terms of timelines and what needs to be done and when that new template will be non-negotiable.

“We have lost enough time as a result of COVID and we have lost enough time as a result of the issues we are having with the plant, which is an old plant, but we all knew what was being divested. So there is no rocket science to what obtained. The time for talking is done. We lost two years in COVID, there is absolutely no excuse. I would like to see that airport dealt with in relation to the upgrading in the shortest possible time,” the tough-talking Vaz stated at the time.

“Whatever timeline you provided here needs to be revised, bring who you need to bring, contract who you need to contract. I have seen you do it in Montego Bay; there is no reason you can’t do it here in Kingston. I want to publicly apologise for what has been transpiring at NMIA even though it is not our fault, the Government has oversight through the Airports Authority of Jamaica,” Vaz said then.

Speaking with the Observer on Wednesday, Vaz said, “the situation at the airport is much improved in terms of the air-conditioning and the bathroom facilities, they are improved but still a work in progress, not fully completed as yet; there is still work to be done.

“I am expecting that by the end of this year, into early next year, all of the improvements will be made in terms of the issues that have been at the forefront of the complaints,”said Vaz.

In August, in addressing the thorny issue of requests for proposals (RFP) from Jamaicans interested in operating businesses at the airports, Vaz had said “Jamaicans are the ones whose blood, sweat and tears have built the infrastructure that we have in Jamaica… So I expect that the upcoming RFP that is going to go out will speak loudly to the fact that Jamaican entrepreneurs who are in the establishment now and those who want to get in, must be given priority in relation to the evaluation of that RFP”.

On Wednesday, when he was asked about this, the minister said, “that process is in place. I think that process, they have gotten extensions going over into early next year and the process for requests for proposals are ongoing. So that process has started”.

Vaz, who had previously declared that he was prepared to get into as much trouble in relation to this, to stand up and protect Jamaican entrepreneurs, told the Observer that he will be heading to the airport within the next week or so to do a walk through.

NMIA, which is the primary gateway for business travel to and from Jamaica and for the movement of air freight, caters to more than 1.7 million passengers and handles more than 70 per cent (17 million kilograms) of the island’s air cargo each year.