Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) hurricane recovery efforts are now supporting more than a dozen commercial passenger flights per day at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. As the agency continues to restore radars, navigational aids and other equipment damaged during Hurricane Maria, the number of commercial flights is expected to continue to increase. The airport handled nearly 100 total arrivals and departures yesterday, including the military and relief operations.
The agency has implemented a slot reservation system to manage the demand for ramp space at the airport and to safely separate aircraft in the air.
The FAA also airlifted a mobile air traffic control tower back to St. Thomas over the weekend to support the relief and recovery missions there. The tower at Cyril E. King International Airport on St. Thomas was initially damaged by Hurricane Irma, and the FAA brought in the mobile tower to help manage traffic. However, the FAA removed the tower to the mainland in advance of Hurricane Maria, to protect it during the storm. The agency shuttles the controllers who staff the tower from San Juan to St. Thomas and back every day.
Preliminary FAA damage assessments have identified a number of critical radars and navigational aids that were destroyed or disabled during the storm. The FAA is bringing replacement systems to the islands by air and by sea to restore essential radar, navigation and communication services and technicians are working on many of those systems now. A long-range radar in the Turks and Caicos returned to service this morning, giving air traffic controllers a much better picture of the planes and helicopters operating in the area.
Technicians are making their way to a second long-range radar site today at Pico del Este, which is located inside a National Park in Puerto Rico, on the top of a mountain. The last two miles to the site through the rain forest are impassable, so the technicians are using chain saws to clear a path for themselves and the replacement equipment.
FAA technicians are working around the clock to restore services, but because of the extent of the damage and challenges of the terrain where equipment is located, it’s difficult to determine a timeline for the full restoration of service.
The FAA continues to work closely with its federal and local partners to rebuild the aviation system in the islands and help the area recover from two devastating storms.
Passengers are encouraged to stay in close communication with their airline if they have reservations on flights in and out of San Juan.