When disaster strikes: what airports and airlines should do when a hurricane hits

What lessons can be learned from natural disasters? Our panel discussion at Routes Americas explored the issue.

From hurricanes to flooding, earthquakes to landslides; there have been some deadly natural disasters in recent months, shaking the Americas and the Caribbean and causing mass disruption for airports and airlines alike.

Our panel discussion at Routes Americas looked at a series of issues including what the industry can do to help mitigate the damage and minimise losses and what lessons can be learned from the recent disasters.

The discussion, moderated by Javier Martinez Botacio from the Airports Council International – Latin America - Caribbean, featured Andrea Lusso, director of planning, jetBlue Airways; Tracy Cooper, chief executive, Bahamasair; and Alejandro Vales, customer and route development director, ASUR.

Here are some of the key quotes from the session:

Andrea Lusso, director of planning, jetBlue Airways

“JetBlue has about a third of our capacity in the Caribbean and a very large presence in Florida. Safety is our top priority and so being prepared is therefore critical. Unfortunately it will probably not be the last time that we see weather events like in 2017.

“One of the key priorities is understanding the phases of recovery. Having a plan before the event and communicating it to crew members and customers is very important. First of all we communicate with crew members to make sure they are safe and if they want to evacuate. Next is the customers – we have to find out if they want to stay or leave. That is critical.

“In terms of lessons learned, underestimating the challenge is never a good idea. Also, you cannot attempt to restart operations too soon.”

Tracy Cooper, chief executive, Bahamasair

“In the Bahamas we like to think that prevention is better than cure. We are usually the first to see a hurricane – they form off the west coast of Africa and take a few days to cross the Atlantic. We therefore see them every year.”

“The National Emergency Management Agency makes sure that all of the assets are together – the police, the defence force and Bahamasair – to establish a plan. By the time the hurricane comes in we have a plan in place, whether that involves shelters or evacuation.

“When the hurricane passes, we then switch to disaster management. We certainly try to be proactive rather than reactive.

“Bahamasair is a key part of the planning process – before Irma we evacuated thousands of people to take them out of harm’s way.”

Alejandro Vales, customer and route development director, ASUR

“We have learnt a lot over the years and I agree that we have to be very proactive. At ASUR we hold an annual seminar to make sure everyone is prepared. Educating people at all levels – from government stakeholders to employees – is important.

“Everyone needs to know what they have to do in the event of a hurricane. We try to involve all levels of stakeholders – from a very local level to the very top. There is no other way to do it.

“On the Brightside, when a disaster happens it provides us an opportunity to renew the destination and renew the product. Usually you can see the recovery within a few months. However, if you get social unrest it can take longer.”