The Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) has said its air services were affected as a lightning strike damaged critical equipment at its Winchester Road-based Kingston Air Traffic Control Centre on Friday, September 8th. The lightning strike on Friday afternoon caused delays to several flights in and out of the country and inconvenienced thousands of passengers. The authority says flights traversing Jamaican airspace have also been impacted, The Gleaner reports.

In the meantime, the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority has emphasized that efforts are underway to restore functionality of air services as soon as possible. Ava Marie Ingram, corporate communication manager at the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority told Loop News that the problem took place at about 3:00 pm and that they are currently working to solve the problem that has affected flights at both the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. “Because of what has happened (the lightning strike) several flights in and out of the island has been delayed,” said Ingram. The Jamaican Civil Aviation Authority says air operators and other stakeholders have been advised.

According to The Gleaner, MBJ Airports Limited, operators of the Sangster International Airport, had said all flights coming into their facility have been put on hold. In an advisory to the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), MBJ has recommended the group to keep its visitors at hotels until further notice. “Once the airport is open we will advise them (patrons),” said Sharon Hislop, MBJ’s manager - commercial, business development and marketing. However, it is not clear how many flights into and out of the Norman Manley International Airport have been affected by the airspace closure.

On Saturday the Jamaican airspace remained closed. Air Canada from Toronto, Canada, Copa Airlines out of Panama and Southwest had cancelled their flights into the island for the day. All three flights were scheduled to arrive at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. This was the second day that flights into the island had been cancelled, following the damage to radar communication system operated by air traffic controllers. Both Sunwing 732 from Canada and Orbest 890, from the UK were diverted to alternate airports in the US, leaving several passengers stranded.

On Sunday night, the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority closed the Jamaican airspace again. A plane en route to Jamaica from Spain had to be diverted to the Dominican Republic, a Cayman Airways flight was forced to return to base and Canada’s three Sunwing planes that were scheduled to arrive on the weekend, were forced to divert to Punta Cana.

This was the second time in three days that the airspace has been closed, resulting in the cancellation of several flights at both the Norman Manley International and Sangster International airports. This latest closure, the authorities said, would last 12 hours, as they progress with efforts for full restoration of air traffic services at the Kingston Air Traffic Control Centre. It was expected to reopen the airspace at 7 o'clock Monday morning.

Although limited service was restored on Saturday to accommodate incoming, outbound and over-flights within the Jamaican region, Chairperson of the Board of Airline Representatives of Jamaica Yvonne Pearson was surprised by the announcement Sunday evening that the airspace was again being closed. "We don’t even know if it was planned," she said, citing the flight cancellations and diversions, according to The Gleaner. In the meantime, Jamaica is losing millions of dollars to places such as Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and Mexico. In addition, there are fears that Jamaica's plans to accommodate guests who were booked in hotels in hurricane-ravaged St. Maarten, could instead go to other markets.

The island's tourism industry has received a blow ever since the problem occurred, as approximately 8,000 to 10,000 passengers have been displaced, unable to enter or leave through Jamaica's two main airports. According to The Gleaner, visitor-arrival figures for the first week of this month show 24,402 at the Sangster International Airport and 4,898 at the Norman Manley International. "That is more than 4,000 arrivals a day, and with an estimated almost equal number of departures, plus the Jamaicans travelling, it means we could have even more than the 10,000 people disrupted," said one north coast hotelier who asked not to be named. "The only saving grace is that the hurricane (Irma) caused the airports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale to be closed, and a lot of the traffic we would expect comes through these gateways," he added.

Nari Williams-Singh, director general at the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority, told The Sunday Gleaner that while some progress was made with restoring equipment, he could not give a definite time as to when normality would return. "Unfortunately, our team is still continuing with trouble-shooting and rectification so service is not up as yet," said Williams-Singh. He added that although a lightning protection system is in place, reviews will have to be done to ensure that the facility is fully equipped to deal with similar events in the future.