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Investigation ordered into airport chaos

By INÊS LOPES [email protected]

An investigation into last week’s chaotic events at Faro Airport after the terminal’s roof was ripped off by freak winds and passengers attended to in a temporary tent in the car park, has been ordered by the Ministry of Economy and Employment.

Two separate inquiries have been launched, one to determine the cause of severe damage to the terminal building and control tower, to be carried out by the National Laboratory of Civil Engineering (LNEC), and the other to investigate the way affected passengers were treated by the airport management, to be undertaken by the Institute of Civil Aviation (INAC).

Gusts during the early hours of Monday, October 24, destroyed several sections of the airport’s roof, which will take months to repair.

The LNEC now has to analyse the structure of the airport terminal building in order to conclude the cause of damage.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Economy and Employment has ordered that ANA Aeroportos de Portugal, the entity that manages airports in Portugal, submits a detailed vulnerability assessment report into the terminal buildings at its airports in the event of similar extreme weather.

The inquiry to determine where the responsibility lies as to the way the airport management responded to the needs and requirements of affected passengers follows several complaints made by the stranded flyers who claim they were treated inadequately.

Edward Carter told the Algarve Resident: “My wife and I had arrived at the airport at 9am on Monday (October 24) for a flight to the UK to find complete chaos in the passenger terminal.”

Edward Carter said he was shocked by the apparent lack of adequate organisation and contingency planning for emergencies such as this.

He added: “Communication was virtually non-existent. Literally thousands of people were crammed in the building with no purpose yet no effort was made to evacuate or partially evacuate the building or to communicate with passengers or control crowds. We saw passengers being taken away having fainted in the crush”

Minister of Economy and Employment Álvaro Santos Pereira wants a full investigation into the Faro airport incident that affected thousands of flyers to and from Faro Airport.
Minister of Economy and Employment Álvaro Santos Pereira wants a full investigation into the Faro airport incident that affected thousands of flyers to and from Faro Airport.

Temporary tent

Economy Minister Álvaro Santos Pereira is said to be “unhappy” about the way affected passengers were treated.

A temporary tent had to be installed in the airport’s car park for passenger check-in and customs control initially, but is now operating only for incoming passengers. Passenger check-in and customs control is again being done at the airport terminal. Although the temporary arrangements still in place are said to be working well, Faro Airport admits the processing of incoming passengers is slower.

ANA Aeroportos Director Dr Rui Oliveira told the Algarve Resident this week that he would not be making comments about the investigations in place.

ANA has also been told by the government to provide a free customer support line for affected passengers in Portuguese and English as well as improve road signage leading to the temporary tent in the car park following several complaints from passengers who found access difficult and confusing.

Meanwhile, a civic movement defending the interests of citizens in Faro has criticised the government’s “absence” and “inertia” during the critical times at Faro Airport last week which affected thousands of flyers to and from Faro Airport.

The Com Faro no Coração (CFC) group says a Crisis Office to respond to scenarios such as the one at Faro Airport last week should be created in the region.

A spokesman said: “The government appears to persist with the subject of tolls, which will only serve to isolate the Algarve from the rest of the country and Spain, yet when it needs urgent action to regulate its air traffic, it doesn’t show up.”

However, contradicting claims of major disruption to scheduled flights, a spokesman for ANA told Lusa news agency that of the 924 flights due for last week (Monday to Sunday), only four were cancelled and three diverted to other airports, with a total of 107,854 passengers going through Faro Airport during that period.

Safety first

Concerns that Faro Airport’s handling of the incident may affect the Algarve’s image as a tourist destination have been dismissed by António Pina, President of the region’s tourism board ERTA.

He told the Algarve Resident: “I don’t believe the airport incident was damaging to the region’s image, despite the legitimate complaints from passengers.

“The airport management’s priority was to ensure the safety of passengers as well as ensure the minimum required service level. However, I understand that passengers may not feel the attention they received was sufficient.

“But we mustn’t forget that we were faced with an unusual scenario that no airport would be prepared for.”

When asked if ERTA had worked closely with the airport following the incident, António Pina said the tourism board made itself available from the first moment to collaborate with the airport.

“We feel sure the airport complied with all rules regarding passenger safety,” he said, adding that it isn’t always possible to attend to everyone’s individual requirements at times of crisis.

Meanwhile, a 26-year-old Brazilian resident who had to be hospitalised after sustaining head injuries in the airport roof incident was released from hospital on Monday.

Faro Hospital did not confirm whether the man had to undergo surgery.

Do you have a view on this story? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]