By Mellica McPherson
Two Legislators who also chair the two opposition parties in the Territory are on record questioning various aspects of the airport expansion project.
The Chair of the Virgin Islands Party (VIP) which is the main opposition Party alluded to the project at a public meeting last month. While Chair of the newly formed People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) Chair Hon. Alvin Christopher commented on the project this week.
During a public meeting held at Carrot Bay in September, Hon. Fraser described the airport project as one of Government’s outlandish projects, and he opined that building a second high school was a better project option: “The school, is more important than the multi-million dollar cruise pier development underway in Road Town, as well as the proposed expansion of the Terrence B. Lettsome International Airport at Beef Island,” he said.
On the other hand Opposition Member, and Chair of the People’s Empowerment Party (PEP), Hon. Alvin Christopher during a radio program on October 27 was more pointed in his comments about the airport project. He announced that he did not think the level of debt such a project would incur is warranted at the moment.
Hon. Christopher announced: “I could get a flight from Miami International Airport to Nassau in The Bahamas every half hour. The key to our sustainability is affordable travel. It has become too expensive to travel between San Juan and Beef Island. And incurring the level of debt that we are talking about to accomplish a long-haul flight from the Main Land, in my personal view will not solve the problem…I know many people believe that easy access to the Virgin Islands is developing a $400M airport; no.”
The PEP Chair stated that in past years a study on the airport at Beef Island resulted in crucial findings that cannot be glossed over. Hon. Christopher said: “To develop an international airport on Beef Island that can accommodate planes that take 200-300 passengers, it must be a total realignment of the airport because the approach to the airport cannot accommodate airlines of that size. And we knew this for a while based on the study that we carried out.”
“For some years I have been saying to Government that if we are to move forward with an international airport in the Virgin Islands, we must get to the point where we utilize the full potential of the islands that fall within our borders, within our boundaries…You will not find in my personal opinion, 200/300 feet planes coming into Beef Island…as it now stands. When you find that happening on a profitable basis, the Virgin Islands will have to go through a radical change in terms of accommodation and all that stuff. So the question I would have to ask in the long term – do we want to empower our people to have what we call villas and other hotels?” he asked.
Scope of Airport Project
The airport project came as a result of a need to make the islands more accessible to markets such as North America and Western Europe; air travelers from North America choosing to fly commercially cannot fly directly to the BVI because the length of the runways at island airports is limited to aircraft flying such long distances. These travelers instead must connect through Puerto Rico or other such regional airports with longer runways.
According to old-time pundits and commentators the day the BVI government gave up on Air-BVI was a horrible day for the Territory. Accordingly, these controversial airport expansion discussions would be unnecessary when we go back to having a national airline: airlift is the real problem, a big airport is not a solution, it is a complication.
The key elements of the proposed project includes: Extension of existing Runway into the sea, Passenger Terminal Expansion and upgrade, Aircraft Ramp Expansion (G-5 aircraft, RJ’s; A-320; 737-800; other private jets), Sewage Treatment Plant and Fire Fighting system relocation, New FBO Facility. Pleasure craft water access-excavated channel, Inter-Island Ferry/Transport service upgrade/relocation, Trellis Bay Welcome and Visitor Center (Transportation Intermodal Center) that includes: Crafts and gift shop, Indigenous arts and craft manufacturing and museum, Live flora indigenous to Beef Island (lignum vitae stand of trees), Traffic Reorganization, and Car-park upgrade.
The Government invited Expressions of Interest that would also include an extension to the existing Runway at Beef Island and concurrent upgrade/provision of Parallel Taxiways and other airfield systems expansion/upgrades to meet the airfield infrastructural needs to be generated from direct long-haul international flights and the consequent and current rapidly growing traffic demand. The new Runway and taxiway system and corollary airfield improvements and associated works will be required to be operational by 2015.