The Governor and his Office sincerely sympathise with individuals who have been inconvenienced by the adjustments made to the airport operating regime, specifically the “wet runway” closure, since the runway overshoot incident in September last year.
There has been some good recent discussion on the closure in the media, but also some misunderstandings on some aspects. People may welcome clarifications and information on the way forward.
Air safety regulation in Montserrat has been wholly designated to the UK organisation, Air Safety and Support International (ASSI). These are experts in what is a critical but highly technical professional field and will be determining the way forward. The Governor does not have a personal responsibility for deciding such matters. It would clearly be wrong and inappropriate for him, or anyone else without the relevant professional experience and qualifications, to do so.
ASSI required that use of our runway in Montserrat in wet conditions be restricted temporarily after the accident last September. That was because they had grounds to believe that the very wet conditions at the time of the incident may have contributed to it. Their decision was a prudent one aimed at keeping us all and our families, friends and visitors safe. It was not taken lightly. The restriction is not when the runway is just damp, but when it is seriously wet. There is specific technical guidance on this for air traffic controllers.
The incident has been investigated by the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB). That is the UK’s professional body responsible for the investigation of air accidents and incidents. The decision to restrict use of the runway when wet was not based on a draft report by the AAIB as some have claimed.
The Governor has been in touch with the AAIB to ask about the timing of their report and he understands it is expected to be ready by late March. That is a standard time period for such an investigation to be completed, indeed rather shorter than the average. Some complex analysis and checks need to be made and wide supporting consultations undertaken.
Once the report is complete, ASSI will be able to review the findings and recommend appropriate adjustments to our airport operating regime. The case and parameters for the wet runway restriction will be reviewed again in depth at that point.
The Governor understands that, meanwhile, Government of Montserrat staff, including the Airport Manager, have been exploring with ASSI and the airlines ways to ease the restriction, provided certain other safety conditions are met. The Governor endorses this work and hopes it will further help ease inconvenience for passengers and others.
Looking ahead to later this year, our airport runway should be given a strong new surface made from the “best practice” materials and design. This work, which is being funded by HMG’s capital investment programme for Montserrat and which was put forward by the Governor, should further strengthen our airport’s safety and resilience in wet weather.