LIFE AT SENSAT | GREAT EXUMA AIRPORT
Lessons learnt from surveying an
international airport in the Bahamas
Last week our Operations team has managed to survey a live, international airport as part of major upgrade works with a total size of 1.4 km2 in only 3 flights, without any disruptions of scheduled commercial flights or the need to close down runways. Read Jack Clancy's - Assistant Project Engineer - experience:
10.10.2018 // 4 minute read
When I first heard about a potential project on Great Exuma, The Bahamas I thought it sounded too good to be true. Not only because of the obviously idyllic location, but also the nature of the job itself. Surveying a live international airport as part of major upgrade works was more than a little out of the ordinary and was a very interesting prospect. As a first international work trip I was rather excited! After a few months of back and forth, the project got the green light and it was into planning mode.
The survey would only be a total of 3 flights covering an area of 1.38km2, but surveying an international airport in The Bahamas comes with a unique set of challenges; connection issues, overheating drones, strong winds, unpredictable weather - but namely of course - not bringing down a commercial airliner. That being the case there was a lot to think about to make sure the operation ran smoothly, efficiently and above all safely.
It was decided that the best course of action would be to operate only in windows when there were no scheduled commercial flights. We would also have a security team with us on site. They would be in contact with Air Traffic Control and also be tuned into the same channel of any incoming/outgoing aircraft. Once an incoming aircraft was a certain distance out from the airport, the drone would be brought in to land and would remain grounded until the aircraft was safely parked by the terminal or had gone back out (the turnaround times there are lightning fast). For outgoing aircraft, the drone would be brought in once the aircraft was ready to taxi. This was doubtless the safest way to operate and indeed the operation went by entirely smoothly and safely.
Nevertheless, there was still the slightest element of uneasiness as you watched our eBee Plus flying across a 2-kilometre runway that had a passenger plane with 50 people on it 30 minutes previously. This was - more than anything - due to the extraordinary nature of that sight. Luckily the airport in question isn’t exactly the busiest on earth (part of the reason for the survey - the expansion of the airport to boost tourist numbers), with commercial operations limited to about 4-5 flights per day and the occasional private plane.
Once the survey was completed we had a few days on the island before our flight back. After all images were geotagged and uploaded (a VERY lengthy process with rather slow internet speeds) it gave us an opportunity to see some of Great Exuma. What became abundantly clear as soon as we had arrived in the Bahamas is how utterly charming, friendly and hospitable the people on this island are. The airport manager became somewhat of a personal tour guide and great friend during our time on the island. He took us to; a homecoming basketball tournament, crazy Thursdays, another small island for the day, his cousins for a home-cooked Bahamian meal (DELICIOUS) and tried desperately to find someone to take us out fishing. We are going to return the favour when he is in London next year!
Great Exuma has the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen with a seemingly never-ending abundance of deserted white sandy beaches with the most vividly turquoise water imaginable. On the one main road that runs across the island there is a staggering beach around every corner. Having rented a car we did a fair amount of exploring and it was fascinating to get a sense of the place. There is such beauty everywhere, but also a huge amount of half built and derelict buildings.
At the height of the Medellín Cartel this island was used for drug trafficking. Many individuals profited greatly from this and started construction on vast properties, but with the collapse of the cartel the money stopped flowing and projects were scrapped. Today tourism makes up the bulk of the economy and even though that is the case it’s still a very unspoilt place. It feels somewhat of a hidden gem.
Being involved in the upgrading of this airport was very exciting. It will clearly be a huge boost to the economy and any local we discussed it with was over the moon. You can’t really overstate how much of an effect this upgrade may have. All in all, this made it an incredibly exciting and interesting project for the whole team to work on and our hotel balcony is definitely the nicest office I will ever have! The set of challenges we faced to complete this project were totally unique but we completed it with absolute safety and without a hitch.
Let's hope there is more down the line!