Airport Expansion Not Attracting Big Airlines: VIP’S Cold Feet

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The Virgin Islands Party (VIP) is calling for a stay on the current plan to expand the BVI Airport runway and is saying that if elected they will instead be implementing short term methods aimed at bringing tourists to the Territory.

The call made by the Virgin Islands Party comes days after the public was engaged on the plans to develop the airport during a government sponsored consultation meeting that was held on 17 January at the Althea Scatliffe Primary school.

At that meeting residents were introduced to ‘Option E’ of the proposed airport development plans which proposes to expand the runway to 6100 feet.

During the meeting it was stated that although the extension will improve accessibility to the Territory, there is no guarantee that the project will result in a surge in air traffic. However, it was noted that larger carriers will be able to land in the BVI; and there would be the possibility of direct flights from the United States. Nonetheless, it was mentioned that there have been no commitment or expression of interest from the large carriers.

While addressing the media on 30 January Virgin Islands Party Chairman Hon. Andrew Fahie announced that the Party plans to put the project on the backburner because it is not seen as an urgent priority. He announced: “We cannot be looking at this time at a $100M airport…when there is not a workable plan up to now to get all our residents who don’t have a house roof, who don’t have somewhere to live; who don’t have a job.” Actually the estimates for the expansion were given before the hurricanes as in excess of $180 MILLIONS plus unforeseen increases that such mega projects normally cause.

“The Virgin Islands Party is not in support of that project going forward at this time. There are too many of our people suffering to have to be able to justifiably explain to them at this stage that you’re going to spend more than $100M, although they are saying that because once you start that project that’s going to come up to $400M the least. How do you justify telling the people of the Virgin Islands that you are going to do this right now, at a time when most of the persons still need help,” he said.

The VIP contends that the project is a costly investment that the Territory should avoid at this time: “It is unconscionable and at the end of the day remember most of our people are still suffering from the ravages of the hurricane. Various businesses still haven’t been opened and even if they have opened they are not operating at their full level and government has not put in any meaningful investment to get them going.”

Hon. Fahie opined that the project is being considered with skewed views: “Spending $100M on an airport out of tribute to their former leader which they were not listening to when he was in office; anyhow they are going to use him as their advisor now and they want to go and get a $100M plus into the airport while everyone else is suffering. Might I add that our people based on how the Recovery and Development Agency is set up will not be the integral players on the construction of the airport, so again the money will not be circulating in the economy,” he said.

He stressed that the project is not to be shelved completely as it is one that the VIP will consider in the future: “Do we have to look about the extension of the airport in the future the answer is yes.”

Airlift and Tourism Concerns

Over the years the airport expansion has been touted as the panacea of the airlift woes that has been plaguing the Territory. A Chief Minister of the 1990s when talking off the record about the possibility of an airport expansion said that he would not go down in history as the leader who brought jets to the BVI.

However, Hon. Fahie said that the VIP if elected will have to consider what are some of the urgent measures that can be put in place to address the issue. “We will have to move into — how do we come up with being able to implement the plans that we have. What are the low lying fruits that we can do right away and what are those that we can do eventually.”

He said, “in the meantime, until we get to the airport expansion there are many other things that we can do. We can improve on what we have. We can improve on the traffic in terms of getting into the Virgin Islands. Improve on the late night ferries for now until we get to that point.”

The VIP Chairman stated that the urgent initiatives will be best as the construction process will still leave the current issues ongoing. “Even if you go to construct the airport at this point and start today it will not finish right away. So you still have to look about initiatives on how to get the businesses, the tourism product and get people into the bed; that takes planning and interim initiatives to get it done…That is where we have to put our focus on and then after that we can go about that; because that is still three to four years off with the airport.”

“No matter how we look at it; so we have to deal with the interim methods of getting persons in here and getting our tourism industry going. We have plans for the tourism industry at least one event per month to ensure that we get the tourism industry going,” Hon. Fahie explained.

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