SAN JUAN, PR – In the weeks since Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico, Raul Dalmau’s flight school, North Shore Aviation, has been persevering through lack of air conditioning and internet access. As of October 24, Dalmau said his company based out of Isla Grande Airport in San Juan was still without power, as was most of his homeland.
“We’re doing well,” Dalmau said. “So far, we are a month and a half behind in our training. We have no power at this time, so we are dealing with open windows.”
As a native of the island, Dalmau said he has witnessed the power of nature and copes with storm devastation in his own practical way. “It’s just Mother Nature thing,” he said. “Everybody is moving on. We realize this is produced by nature and there is no choice but to stand up and move on.”
While relief efforts for Puerto Rico and neighboring island St. Martin are focusing on getting food to people, Dalmau has taken part in missions to supply the affected areas with tools and other supplies to help rebuild.
“North Shore has helped bring in tools, mechanics, and food to the British Virgin Island, St. Thomas, and more,” he said. “Most of the time when you’re outside of the disaster, you think about water and food. A lot of times people need tools and help cleaning. Yes we need water and food, but we need hands to move on the area. Like a chain, it has to be all together.” Dalmau said he and his company have made at least 10 flights to neighboring islands suffering from storm damage to help with the relief efforts.
School Hits The Books
Flight school students have taken the setbacks created by Hurricane Maria in stride. “We got together last week, all 38 students,” Dalmau said. “We’re running with open windows, open doors, and doing our lessons. We have no support of internet or web without power and usually have monitors and screens. We are just using books.”
Each student is using a Gleim Aviation pilot kit to prepare for their upcoming FAA Knowledge Tests. The Gleim Pilot Handbook and FAA Knowledge Test Prep books have been especially useful for offline studying.
“We have a classroom and a Skyhawk 172 fuselage inside of the classroom,” Dalmau said. “When we speak about aerodynamics or about the cabin, we stand up and go to fuselage. We have a very big glass window we open and pull that fuselage outside of classroom.
“If I open that window all the way up, it’s not air conditioned but we’re fresh and okay.”
Several students are close to taking their practical tests. “Possibly next week,” Dalmau said. “Depends on if they are ready for the check ride.”
Pilot-in-training Angel Mendez, 65, said he is pursuing his private pilot certificate so he can transport his family to nearby islands. “I’m doing this for myself and to be fly around with my family,” he said. “Maybe I’ll buy a plane.”
Mendez is a director of finance at a pharmaceutical company in Puerto Rico. He and other North Shore Aviation students have had to make adjustments around the lack of electricity and internet. “It’s a challenge,” he said. “You have your home and you work without power and water, so to get things done in a normal way, it’s been quite hard.
“The pressure of taking classes and going to the school to do it before dark means changing your whole schedule. But the group is accepting the challenge without a problem, some have made special arrangements. Some students had been attending the 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. session of ground school but that’s not an option for as long as the power is out. “It starts getting dark at 6:20 p.m.” Mendez said. “Then the whole country is working on diesel fuel.”
For now, Dalmau said North Shore Aviation continues to teach students and help out the community when possible. “We have water and phone lines, but that’s it.”
Island and Airport Conditions
“The coastline, houses, and infrastructure are really bad,” Dalmau said, noting where the efforts are most needed in Puerto Rico. “We need a working electric system.”
Dalmau said he saw a U.S. Navy carrier anchored off San Juan the day before the storm hit. “We were looking at the rescue teams going back and forth from the ship,” he said. “Helicopters are now descending upon the island. Every day there are more. At first 3 or 4, then, 20, 50 and there’s 400 choppers now. It’s the only way to get access to all the areas in danger, that are flooded, and in the mountains.”
At Isla Grande Airport, flights resumed soon after Hurricane Maria came ashore on Sept. 20, 2017. “We were lucky that everything has been working since the day after the hurricane,” he said. “We pulled up the trees and branches right away and we took off. We have had a lot of help from the National Guard and Navy.”
Dalmau said that it took about four days for the nearby Luis Munoz Marin International Airport to reopen for flights outside of military use. “The U.S. Air Force and Navy took over all regional airports the day after the storm,” Dalmau said. “It feels good that after the disaster somebody took over. We needed to feel the security.”
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