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International airport long overdue


EDITOR: I am aware that this subject has stirred and is stirring up a lot of passion. But why is this small nation so divided over such a very important – and in my opinion – necessary project?

If St. Vincent and its people are to reap the benefits of a global economy the new airport is a must. The ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of a new airport appear to be divided along political party lines. I believe this to be totally absurd. Something that should unite the nation appears to be dividing us. I can’t understand such division.{{more}} If the division was based on ‘economic’ or ‘environmental’ concerns then every government that’s worth its salt would be wise to listen and tread cautiously, but it seems that none of this is the case.

Some of the arguments I hear put forward against the development of the airport are these: (a) we don’t need a new airport, (b) it will be a ‘white elephant,’ (c) it’s better to re-develop Arnos Vale, (d) the location of Argyle is unsuitable, (e) we can’t afford to build a new airport.

Let’s look at all these points more carefully and see if they can be refuted.

(a) I strongly believe and sincerely believe that a new airport bringing passengers directly to St. Vincent from their ports of embarkation is long over-due. Since the construction of the E.T. Joshua airport, passengers traveling to and from St. Vincent have had to spend hours waiting at other airport terminals such as Barbados, Antigua, Puerto Rico (just to name but a few) in order to get a connecting flight to get to their port of final destination. How much longer should any government subject its proud citizens to the humiliation of sitting about or standing around in waiting rooms and sometimes outside in other countries to be ‘checked in’ and ‘checked out’ like animals? All this happens after some 8.5 to 9 hours flight from other countries. Sometimes there are no connecting flights, or sometimes flight connections are missed due to late take-off from the port/s of embarkation.

Some families arrive with children and suckling babies tired and worn out. Sitting at a foreign airport, with no facilities to change and wash soiled babies is embarrassing. They worry about where they can find a place to sleep for the night. The stress is unforgiving.

Some families have to make decisions to room overnight in a hotel thus having to spend money, which had been allocated for spending in St. Vincent, on taxis and hotel accommodation. (St. Vincent loses out again). Those who do not wish to spend money to stay overnight in an expensive hotel sleep like vagrants at the airport on hard wooden benches, if they could find one. How many of you who say that an international airport is not needed would want to subject yourself to this kind of torture?

How much longer must we continue in this kind of self-inflicted colonization where we are prepared to demonstrate quite clearly our inability to control our own destiny and in the end prosperity and happiness?

(b) It is said that building an international airport here would turn out to be a ‘white elephant.’ For those who are not aware of the term ‘white elephant’, it means something that is useless, or an object, which no one can find a proper use for (a waste of money). I will argue that the idea or reference to the proposed airport being a ‘white elephant’ cannot stand up to an intelligent debate. I’ll refute this suggestion in as short a summary as possible. An International Airport will be financially beneficial to every Tom, Dick and Harry on this island. FACT. More business people from overseas would want to invest in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and more tourists will come. Therefore, more money and more jobs created.

Time is money and no businessperson will want to bring his/her business here knowing that he/she would have to waste two or more hours waiting for connecting flights to and from St. Vincent, to get back to another business meeting in New York or London knowing that he/she would be late for that meeting. Barbados has benefited for decades from the myopic vision of planners and economic advisers in St. Vincent, which include politicians. The present government has promised to put this right and we all should be rallying around them to make it happen.

Young entrepreneurs will for the first time be able to travel abroad, and invite other venture capitalists to develop and create new products which can be transported directly to other recipient countries.

Everything would be faster and direct. Farmers will be able to sell their produce directly to markets in Europe and America in fresh wholesome condition. Our farming products will become more saleable and attractive for the European and American markets, because they will get to their destination quicker and in better condition. More Vincentians and their friends living throughout the diaspora would be queuing up to fly home. I believe that there are more Vincentians and their children and grand children living abroad than living here, and many of them want to visit St. Vincent but are deterred because of the waiting at airports for connecting flights.

If this situation changes one can see the increase in air traffic landing at the airport. The business community in St. Vincent must rally around the government and help to make the proposed airport a reality, because they would be some of the first people to benefit from its birth. If the government keeps its pledge to the people of St. Vincent we will have our new airport. If it doesn’t it will be condemned to the junkyard of history. The people of St. Vincent expect development, and the government must deliver. Let the ‘white elephant’ be ridden by those “Thomases”.

(c) Re-developing the existing airport, I believe, would be like putting new wine in old bottles. It will not be cost effective. It costs more to re-develop an old house, to install the most up-to-date mod con than to build a new one with the same modern equipment. Any builder/engineer will confirm this theory. If developing Arnos Vale is such a better option, why has this not been done during the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s ’90s, and at present? During all that time we have been crying out loud and clear that we need a bigger airport. It would have been cheaper. The fact that there should be so much doubt and skepticism is because there is a dearth of information available to us about a firm date when the project is to start. The government must quash these doubts and rumours by publishing a timetable for starting and finishing, bearing in mind that there can be delays for unforeseen problems. People need to have information so that they can be guided to make informed and sound decisions. Where there are no facts to chew on people will make up stories, which then become distortion of the real ‘facts’. I’ve even heard it argued that what is really needed is a “good air access” instead of an International Airport. I don’t know what this term means, but if anyone knows perhaps he/she would care to inform me.

(d) Is the location at Argyle unsuitable for an airport? I don’t know but what I know is this: Before any site is chosen for the location of anything, research and tests are carried out by qualified personnel, for its suitability. The findings are discussed thoroughly, and all risks factors are taken into consideration. This is then weighed and scrutinized carefully in detail before a decision is taken. We have to assume that all these things have been done on the site for the new airport.

(e) Critics say that the government does not have the money. This is possibly quite true, but is this a reason for us to scoff at the plans to bring an international airport to St. Vincent? From what I’ve heard, the government has indicated that funding for the project will be sourced from various “friendly” countries around the world. This is the right thing to do, and I hope that the government is successful and will soon publish a document, which shows the “real money” committed, and the names of those lenders and donors.

We would also like to see what involvement they would have in the running of the airport when it is finished. I would also like to see the names published of all the big and long established businesses in St. Vincent who have made a commitment to donate funds for the project. This will show where the big businesses in this island stand. In developed countries around the world, projects like these would attract the help and support of businessmen and the community within that country.

I would like to suggest that the government use the only natural resource that we have (and that is fish) to negotiate for more money from those countries, which at present benefit from our fishing grounds, in order to help raise funds for the airport. We must not sell the only natural resource we have cheaply. Fish is sold as a very expensive commodity in the developed world.

I hope that level-headed people with a non-partisan objective can follow up this discussion, which I may or may not have started. The airport is long overdue. Let’s join forces with the government, foes and friends alike, to get our new airport.

Orlando Williams

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