SIA readies for December traffic

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Jamaica is set to welcome a record five million visitors by December and, with past challenges still fresh in their minds, the authorities are moving to ensure all goes smoothly.

“With that increase in traffic we are working assiduously on several improvements to reduce congestion and to improve the passenger flow, including expanding the check-in area,” stated chief executive officer of MBJ Airports Limited Shane Munroe.

“That is work that is going to commence shortly; but in advance of that Christmas season we are taking out certain areas, concessions that we are going to convert into operational space for passenger circulation,” added Munroe.

He was speaking with journalists on Thursday following a tour of the Sangster International Airport (SIA) by Minister of Science, Energy, Telecommunication and Transport Daryl Vaz and other officials. A meeting later followed.

Munroe said work is being done at the entrance of the airport.

“We are splitting the traffic that enters the airport into two separate loops: arrivals and departures. People who are dropping off passengers will not need to go to the arrivals area and that is going to take just about 50 per cent of the traffic off the arrivals curb. Again, the goal here is to improve the throughput, the circulation at the airport,” stated Munroe.

“We are also increasing the car park. We removed the gas station recently from that area and serious construction is under way to expand the car park facilities,” added the CEO.

In addition, Munroe said several technologies are being implemented — including self-service kiosks — that will help with the processing of passengers.

“We are looking towards introducing biometrics in the short term. That contract is already executed and, again, the goal is to reduce the wait times for passengers. We are also working with is the airlines. [They] are a key part of the puzzle and where passengers spend a lot of time with the queues. We are putting in place certain measures to reduce passenger processing time and wait times. Again, this is a collaborative approach of the stakeholders, immigration, customs and the various agencies to ensure that we can handle this winter season,” stated Munroe.

“In the medium term, we are expanding the immigration hall. We already have a contractor selected for that and that contractor will start to work this year, that is going to be a significant expansion…at the front of the terminal building. That is again to increase the outbound security space, increase the number of outbound security lanes but also doubling the size of the immigration hall. We are doing various works to improve other sections of the terminal like the departure gates and also in the landside facilities for the car rentals and for the hotel shuttles and transfers,” the CEO said.

Vaz explained that his familiarisation tour of the airport, which focused on logistics and operations, was the result of negative reports regarding incoming and outgoing passengers and the length of time they have to wait.

The minister is assuring visitors and users of both Sangster and Norman Manley International airports that special measures are being implemented for the winter season.

“I’m satisfied with the plans in relation to MBJ in terms of how they’re going to roll out, in terms of the expansion of the airport itself, in terms of additional square footage in critical areas and of course, access to the airport from the major thoroughfare, which is also very important, which will allow for free flow both in terms of vehicular traffic and, of course, passenger, human passenger traffic,” stated Vaz.

“We are fully aware of peak season and what it brings with it in terms of increased traffic, but we must meet industry standards in terms of the processing time and that goes from arrival and departing aircraft to entering your vehicle on the curbside. That takes in three major logistics [functions]: immigration, customs and the baggage haul. It’s going to be also very important for the synergies between those three to make sure that one does not cause the others to suffer in terms of the passenger experience,” the minister added.

Chief Executive Officer of the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency Andrew Winter noted that besides the implementation of additional officers, Sangster is set to receive 20 kiosks for December.

“Fifteen additional kiosks came to Montego Bay [earlier this year]. We now have 60 kiosks in Montego Bay; an additional 20 will be coming so we’ll be up to 80 which will bring us up to just over 115 processing points to process the increased volume of passengers who we anticipate will be arriving,” stated Winter.

Chief information officer at Jamaica Customs Agency, Andre Williams, spoke about additional scanners to be added.

“One of the things that we are working on now is the inclusion of additional scanners, that’s an intrusive inspection equipment in the passenger hall. And of course, that will also allow for faster throughput of passengers. We continue to add these pieces of technology and logistically, as well as adjustment to our processes to ensure that we provide high-quality service and a faster throughput of our passengers,” he noted.

President and chief executive officer of the Airports Authority of Jamaica (AAJ), Audley Deidrick noted that it comes as no surprise that the airport is bursting at its seams due to passenger traffic, causing congestion.

Deidrick, who said the AAJ stands behind MBJ’s plans, noted that a similar situation took place in 2019 when traffic at the airport was 4.7 million passengers. He said plans to deal with the situation at that time are only being rolled out now due to disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic.