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Impact of an International Airport on St Vincent and the Grenadines

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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.

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About Ashford Daniel

  • Thank you, Curtis, for your candid comments. This article is my debut here at BlogCritics and so I wrote as an opening batsman going out to face uncertain batting conditions; however, your response adds to the fashioning of my writer’s craft here.

    I mentioned the Barbados stress issues because that was one of the first comment I heard as a boy growing up that said to me that all was not well airport wise here.

    But I, too, have been treated with royalty in Barbados while I was there. But a good thing can be made better. There were several headlines across the Caribbean earlier this year of person’s dissatisfaction as they went through the airport.

    I will suggest that St Vincent seeks to move in heavy cargo as it relates to the establishment of new businesses in terms of goods and services. There are investors who will not come here because lack of an international airport means more expenses, but landing equipment and materials on the mainland saves much production costs. Time is indeed money. Additionally, we do lose some tourists who divert to other hosts due to the hassle of changing flights to come to SVG.

    I think as well that Caricom and OECS heads have to break down the divisions and plan for the region from the top down; no longer can it be every man for himself. No territory in the 21st century Caribbean can be “an island” to itself.

  • Curtis P

    Nice article Ashford. I , however, do not agree with all of what you said. First of all, I have flown through Barbados over 100 times now and have never had a humiliating experience. I thought your comments were a bit dramatic. People make connections every day and Barbados is actually a beautiful, well organized airport. Bajans are also some of the friendliest people I have ever met.

    I am not saying we do not need an international airport. I am, however, questioning HOW we are doing it. We must also know that just because we build an airport does not mean people will come. It costs over 1.5 million US per route that must be paid to the larger airlines to have them schedule a flight to SVD. They do not do this out of the goodness of their hearts. We have our own airline, LIAT, that has the support of our prime minister, but has not demonstrated in the past that it can be a relaible carrier in the Caribbean. I suppose the plan is to use LIAT to fill the runway time at the new international airport. All the major airlines already have contracts with Barbados and St Lucia so there is no incentive for them to put more flights 100 miles away. We, unfortunately, do not have the tourism numbers to warrant a decision from these airlines to add another flight so close to their other hubs. With crime increasing and the economy dipping I do not forsee this changing anytime soon…unfortunately.

    So, someone please tell me what the plan is for this new international airport. What is the plan that will keep it from becoming a billion dollar mausoleum. Please tell me.

    Curtis P