For decades all international travellers to and from St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) have had to deal with the sometimes humiliating experiences of having to change flights, usually in Barbados. Often times, they would complain of the scutiny and time consuming immigration checks. Several, in fact, seemed to have resigned themselves to coming to SVG as rarely as possible.
There have been reported instances as well where persons en route to St. Vincent to get to the Grenadines have been literally taken by couriers from the hub location where they were to take the flight that brings them directly to mainland St. Vincent.
There is the argument as well that the lack of an international airport has deprived SVG of much needed financial input including forein currency. As a monocrop economy, the island has grown to become a major importer of goods and services, even importing what it has the capacity to produce locally.
Early in the political life of the post-colonial St. Vincent and the Grenadines, its longest serving prime minister proclaimed that an international airport on the mainland was not probable because there will need to be two runways–one for taking off and the other for landing. This was said, it seems, due to the mountainous nature of the island. St Vincent is the second most mountainous island in the Eastern Caribbean archipelago.
One of the spill offs of that first official verdict on a possible international airport on St. Vincent was that it was nepotistic in nature. You see, the then Prime Minister, Sir James Mitchell, was a native of Bequia, the largest Grenadines island. Persons in the Grenadines have always seen themselves as a separate people from the mainland Vincentians. So a sort of competitive animosity had been developed.
To add insult to injury, Prime Minister Mitchell also said that Canouan, another of the Grenadines island, had the capacity to take a large enough runway to accommodate the LIAT aircraft that was landing on the mainland, along with small jets.
That would mean that mainlanders would have to travel to Canouan before they could have boarded a regional air carrier.
The idea infuriated Vincentians on the mainland. There were some other comments being made by Sir James from time to time that made mainlanders feel they were being insulted by their prime minister. For example, he would say that when the mainland runs out of banana, the Grenadines would still have fish; that mainlanders had a breadfruit mentality; that Jesus Christ could never have been born in St. Vincent because there are no virgins on the island.
So, you see, the then prime minister’s allegedly informed opinion on an international airport on mainland was being taken in less than pleasant acceptance.
A new government with a new prime minister was elected in 2001. Not too long after that it became known that the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government led by Ralph Gonsalves intended to make good on a promise to deliver an ainternational airport on the mainland.
That seemed to have reopened a can of worms. The political pundits all started throwing their punches; however, the ULP stuck to its guns. The area airmarked as the suitable site was a on the eastern side of the island in an area known as Argyle.
Argyle was an area of several hundred residents who had built middle income to upper level income houses on their property. These people had to be relocated by the government. In the process of these relocations, the government sold lands from the Grenadine island of Bequia, home of former Prime Minister Mitchell, to raise moneys to pay the removed home owners for their lands.
The completion of the airport was scheduled for 2012; however, it has now been set for 2 years later, in 2014. Part of the problem has to do with the gigantic tasks of bringing the airport site to a level field, thus eliminating the hills and valleys. There has also been much discussion on the availability of finances to keep the project going.
The majority of the work is being done by countries that have pledged their support in what the St. Vincent and the Grenadines government is calling “a coalition of the willing.”
I recall once being in the vicinity and talking to a very reliable source who admitted that the engineers and leaders on the ground where the physical work is being done were concerned that they were not seeing monies flowing at the proper pace needed to keep the project on schedule.
The contract for the commencement of the building of the terminal buildings was signed a few weeks ago; however, looking at the sight will reveal that a lot of ground work still needs to be done. You are not seeing a runway clearly shaped as yet.
Another concern is that Argyle has been known for being very windy. It is on the Windward side of the island, taking the brute force of the prevailing North East Trade Winds. Will planes be able to land or take off safely?
The clock is ticking, and in a way I suppose that even the critics are secretly hoping that St. Vincent and the Grenadines will finally have its own international airport.