Completion Nears For Long-Delayed St. Vincent and the Grenadines Airport
Photo: Argyle International Airport is slated to open at the end of 2015. (Courtesy of SVG’s International Airport Development Company)
When it comes to tourism-reliant Caribbean destinations, it's never too late to open an airport. Delays have plagued the launch of Argyle International Airport in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) ever since the tiny Caribbean nation first announced the project in 2007. Yet the airport’s scheduled debut this year will be welcome all the same.
Originally scheduled to open in 2011, Argyle International Airport remains under construction. Nevertheless the airport’s terminal building, which features a departure lounge, concessions area, a rooftop restaurant, and a conference center facility with a roof garden and parking, is complete, said SVG officials in a statement. Runway paving should be complete by mid-June and the airport is presently scheduled to open by the end of 2015.
Most recently, SVG’s International Airport Development Company (IADC), the government-run agency in charge of building the airport, announced a plan to install a solar photovoltaic system at the new airport. Financed through a loan from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the system will partially power the airport’s terminal building in its initial phase.
When complete, SVG’s first international airport will have three floors totaling 129,870 square feet of floor space and handle about 1.5 million passengers per year. The capacity will be more than five times the number of passengers currently passing through the existing E.T. Joshua Airport.
Argyle International Airport is being financed by the SVG government, with “grants, donations and loans” from countries including Cuba, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Austria, Malaysia, Turkey, Qatar, and Taiwan.
SVG clearly assumed a monumental task in building the new airport. Described as the most costly capital project in SVG history, representing nearly one-half of the nation’s gross domestic product, construction involved “an astounding removal of three mountains, filling two valleys [and] creating embankments,” along with the bridging of a river, SVG officials said.
“Our new Argyle International Airport is going to transform the tourism industry, making SVG one of the most sought-after and ‘green’ destinations in the eastern Caribbean,” said Glen Beache, CEO of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority. “The new airport terminal has been carefully sized to accommodate our expected growth in passenger traffic over both the medium and long term.”
Nevertheless, the airport’s shifting opening dates have been subject to intense discussion throughout the destination. Beache, a former SVG tourism minister, acknowledged that the delays have made negotiating with airlines for future service more difficult.
“Honestly speaking, it can be embarrassing” Beache told the Caribbean360.com website last month. “[I’m] not going to lie about that, because obviously airlines make their itinerary at least a year in advance.”
Beache said the SVG government will subsidize airlines to attract service to the new airport. “Airlines do not owe St. Vincent and the Grenadines anything,” he said. “They are not coming in here unless they can make a profit.” Beache said British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have held preliminary discussions with SVG regarding the new airport.
Presently, SVG tourism is decidedly small-scale. Comprised of 32 islands and cays in the southern Caribbean, the country hosted 70,713 overnight visitors in 2014, fewer than any of the 28 destinations tracked by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) with the sole exception of Montserrat.
SVG visitors generally travel to the main island of St. Vincent and the eight inhabited islands: Young Island, Bequia, Union, Mayreau, Mustique, Canouan, Palm Island and Petit St. Vincent.
The horseshoe-shaped Tobago Cays reef shelters five deserted islets and is known locally as a center for sailing and snorkeling. The county’s outstanding natural attractions are much-appreciated among its relative handful of visitors.
Still, the new airport will undoubtedly impact SVG’s sleepy profile. “St. Vincent and the Grenadines has no record of international travel because we have never had an international airport,” Beache told Caribbean360.com.
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