New life and a new perspective have been found to help the government move forward with the long lamented need to extend the Territory’s main airport the Terrance B Lettsome in order to stave off the pressing airlift issues.
For years, successive governments recognized the need to extend the runway but for various reasons, it never panned out. However, Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie announced in the House of Assembly on 19 June that his Government might have found a workable solution.
Hon. Fahie explained that the BVI Airport’s Authority has been working on solutions to extend the runway and ensure that airlift is no longer a problem for the Territory. He told the House of Assembly that the BVI Airport Authority engaged the services of Brakkam Aviation Management LLC (“Brakkam”), an Atlanta-based consulting firm, in December 2019, to give some perspective on the matters affecting the airport and the possible solutions.
According to Hon. Fahie the objective of the consultancy is to assist the Authority in assessing, shaping, and planning the role of air transportation in terms of the Territorial Vision and the Government’s commitment to building the resiliency of the Virgin Islands. The Premier said that the consultant guided the approach to dealing with the changing traveller and tourist demographics, as well as natural and manmade disasters such as global warming and catastrophic storms; and pandemics like the dreadful COVID-19.
“Brakkam has presented the BVIAA with a six-month interim report, which contains feedback on a number of crucial issues that we need to take into account as a Territory, not just from the aviation and aeronautical sector but also in areas such as tourism and cargo shipment,” Hon. Fahie told Legislators.
Concerning the belaboured issue of extending the Terrance B. Lettsome runway, the Premier said that Brakkam considered options for extending or reorienting the current runway, as well as constructing an alternative. In its report to the Authority Brakkam noted that they took into consideration the costs that would be involved with land reclamation versus options that did not involve reclamation, among other factors.
Hon. Fahie said that the consulting firm recommended an option that will allow us to build a new runway without much land reclamation. This will allow for the construction of a 9,100 linear foot (LF) runway at an estimated probable cost of $183.78 million. A shorter runway of 7,250 LF would cost approximately $150.65 million.
The BVI Leader told the House, “Avoidance or minimisation of land reclamation presents the lowest cost and shortest timetable for delivery. Suffice it to say when the BVIAA Board took up office in July 2019, they met on file a proposal for extending the existing runway by a mere 1,500 FL at a cost of $203 million, and involving land reclamation to carry out the extension.” Really cheap!?
Further Hon. Fahie noted that the new Board, through Brakkam has been able to identify an option for constructing an entire 9,100 LF runway with not much land reclamation for less than what the previous administration was going to spend for a 1,500 FL extension.
“The consultant advises that this entire project, should we decide to proceed on this option, will take three to five years from start to finish including financing, design and construction of the new runway, and the ancillary improvements to the taxiway, aircraft parking apron and passenger terminal, among other project tasks,” Hon. Fahie noted.
He also mentioned that a longer runway will be capable of facilitating larger aircraft that are able to fly directly to the US mainland and Europe. This, the Premier said, means that there are options that will open up to counteract this concern. “Tourists will be able to come to the BVI and be confident that in the event that it becomes necessary, the airlift can be available to get them safely back to their home countries. This will increase the volume of arrivals during what is traditionally a slow period annually for one of our main economic engines, and this will translate into more money going into the pockets of our Virgin Islands people and their businesses,” the Premier declared.