February 20, 2004 - #16
Airport to Be Closed from September 6 through October 15, 2004
For the past few months we have known about this project, but decided to wait until Michel Magras, deputy mayor and departmental representative, made an official announcement to share the news with you.
That is, the runway at the airport needs to be completely re-paved. Over the past few years, the areas in the worst condition have been repaired, but these repairs little by little are not sufficient. In a report dates February 2002, the regional French civil aviation authorities concluded that the degradation of the runway, including the parts that had been repaired, required serious attention in order to continue to insure the transport of passengers in the safest possible conditions.
The project will require that all airport traffic come to a halt. The local officials decided to chose the quietest time of the year, in terms of flights and passengers, to do the work which will be done 24/7 and everyone involved will do their best to reduce the time the airport is closed to no more than six weeks.
A new layer of concrete will be poured over the existing surface that measures 650 meters long (2130 feet). The runway will also be widened on each side, increasing its width from 15 to 18 meters (from 50 to 60 feet). A lighting system will be installed to allow emergency medical evacuations to take place at night safely. On the top of the hill at La Tourmente, a retaining wall with a security fence will be erected, and a second security fence, similar to the one put along the main road last year, will be installed along the rental car parking lot. Finally, the installation of wind socks and wind gauges will be reinforced, and an emergency system including a generator will allow the lights and the airport itself to function in case of a power outage.
While the runway is being repaired, people will be obliged to come or go by boat. Existing ferry services are looking into more roundtrips per day, enabling passengers will be able to connect to their international flights at Juliana Airport. For emergency medical evacuations, a helicopter will remain at the airport, although it is not known if it will be private or military.
After an initial reaction of surprise, many residents accept this news with a smile. To not be inconvenienced by the closing of the airport, it is possible to organize trips, and even if it is necessary to leave the island, one can take a fast private motor boat, or one of the regular daily ferry lines.
Just think how nice it will be to not hear the noise of airplane engines for six weeks, taking some Saint-Barth residents back in time to the quiet days of the 1970s before the island’s economic development and tourism boom. For others, it will mean a new way to discover the island.
More to come