Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday that the tragic plane crash of pilot Byron Ferguson on November 8 in waters off Nirvana Beach could prompt the government to review a long-standing lighting policy relating to airports throughout the Family Islands.
There have been widespread criticisms of authorities’ handling of the search and rescue efforts.
The Ferguson family also questioned why the lights on several airport runways between West Palm Beach, Florida and New Providence, including Chub Cay, Great Harbour Cay, and San Andros, were reportedly not on when Byron radioed Air Traffic Control on the night of the crash.
Responding to questions from Eyewitness News, D’Aguilar said he was advised by the general manager of the Airport Authority, Milo Butler III, who has the remit for airports in the Family Islands, that the lights are kept off at night.
Family Island airports operate from sunrise to sunset, the minister said, adding that the decision was made many years ago to discourage “nefarious activities”.
“Many moons ago this decision was made that these airports will be operational from sunrise to sunset and therefore the lighting would only be used in an emergency situation,” D’Aguilar said.
“The protocol is that when an aircraft is in distress, they radio Lynden Pindling International Airport’s control tower and they then advise the airport at which the aircraft which wishes to make an emergency landing.
“There is a person – a policeman specifically – who they call in order to advise that there is an emergency situation and they wish to gain access to that airport. As a result, the lights are turned on and the emergency is accommodated.”
When asked whether the government planned to review this policy in light of the plane crash nearly two weeks ago, D’Aguilar said, “This is clearly where yes, a review would have to be done.”
He said, however, the undertaking could represent significant costs and resources for the government.
“You have to turn on the lights,” he said. “You’re going to have to have someone there in order to ensure that no nefarious activities take place. All of that is cost and manpower. All of that has to be taken into consideration on the one side versus the potential saving of a life on the other side. I’m sure the government will see fit to look at that.”
The minister added that an emergency can take place anywhere, and the government would also have to consider how many airports to include.
According to former Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin, between 2002 and 2007, the Christie administration installed 18 airports with emergency solar lighting.
Another four airports were fitted with solar lighting when the Christie administration returned to office in 2012, she said.
There are 28 airports throughout the nation.
Yesterday, D’Aguilar said to the best of his knowledge all of the airports the pilot passed are in working condition.
“Is every single light bulb working? I don’t know, but [there is] certainly sufficient lighting to accommodate an emergency landing,” he said. “That is what I am advised.
“Now, is every single lighting on all 28 airports’ operational? I know of one specifically that is not operational and is under repair and that is the Deadman’s Cay Airport. I know that for a fact that the lighting there is waiting to be repaired. That was damaged in a previous hurricane.”
It remains unclear when the lights on that airport will be repaired.
Of the Air Accident and Investigation Department’s probe into the plane crash, D’Aguilar said the process cannot be rushed.