Parliament has now approved the bill which was recommended by the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority to improve deficiencies that saw several regional airports being downgraded from Category 1 to Category 2 by the US Federal Aviation Authority.
The Senate approved the Civil Aviation Amendment Act on Thursday.
Government Senator Samantha Marshall said the 23-page bill seeks to ensure that safety is paramount at the country’s main airports
“This bill is ensuring that those who have the technical expertise can function effectively and at the same time to widen the scope and expressions that are used within the civil aviation legislation to ensure we place greater emphasis on security in addition to safety,” Marshal said
Currently, the only instance under which a minister can intervene in seeking to give any direction to the Director General is where there are issues of national security and issues affecting relations between Antigua and other countries
“The legislation that is before this House today seeks to look at primarily the safety of those whom you seek to serve and within the jurisdiction that the airlines are operating. You have to ensure that you have all measures in place. And before a lot of the focus seemed to have been just on the airline itself and what happens on the airplane. This now expands to all surrounding areas, the airport, the fueling everything. And so it is to ensure that all measures are in place to ensure the safety and protection and security of all who are working at the airports, who work for the airlines”, Marshall said
She said the bill also gives the island’s tourism sector a major boost as well
“We can see that our numbers here in tourism have been climbing significantly, and we need to ensure that our tourism minister constantly is out there looking to get more airlines coming to Antigua and Barbuda.
“So, we have to ensure that we meet the international standards because that is what is expected of us. And it is not just what is expected through from the USA, but from all larger territories that treat civil aviation as a critical area for the security and protection of all our people. President, as the leader of” Marshall added.
Meanwhile, Opposition Senator Shawn Nicholas noted the regional implications of the bill’s passage.
“I think that is why we find ourselves in this situation that we’re in, where the Category One status was withdrawn and we’re now being forced by the Federal Aviation Authority of the United States, and of course, the International Civil Aviation Authority, to review our legislation, to strengthen our legislation to ensure that we can get back to that category one status. As a tourism destination, most of us as Caribbean islands, we would want safety as well as for those of us who live here, to know that our airports and our airport regions are safe,” Senator Johnson told Parliament
She welcomed the amendments to the legislation saying “I
think the wisdom was seen where they’re saying if it’s supposed to be an autonomous body, let the power reside with the director general. So, you see most of it is shifted from the minister to the director general”
Meanwhile, Senator Marie Clare Hurst the bill also seeks to ensure limited political involvement.
“Some of the power has been taken away from the minister because we know, Madam President, that a minister is political and may not have that significance in terms of understanding certain technical aspects of the aviation system, But the director general, that person is the person who would understand”.
“You can wake up tomorrow morning and somebody can be the minister of aviation and this afternoon that person can be changed through reshuffle with resignation. And so, this is very important for us…” she said
And independent Senator Kiz Johnson also gave her voice of support to the bill.