By Nelson A. King
NEW YORK (CMC) — Howie Prince, is the Consul General of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines diplomatic office in the United States.
Celia Ross, who shares the building with him, is the United States Director of Sales and Marketing at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority.
Both are ecstatic that on Valentine Day, they will be among several passengers making an historic and romantic journey back to their homeland. Only this time, instead of having to endure several stopovers, they will be flying directly to the newly built Argyle International Airport (AIA).
“First of all, it’s the fulfilment of many years of wishful things,” Prince told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), adding, “We can now boast of an international airport, where we can move people and goods and services to bolster our development.
“It’s an historic moment. Those of us landing on Valentine’s Day, it’s both very exciting, and, at the same time, a great prospect from the standpoint of having seamless travel. And to have seamless travel, it’s the fulfilment of many dreams.
“With the ground-breaking for hotel development, tourism should take off, agricultural development should take off, and we can see the return of the brain power. The development of the airport can help in our economic development.”
The international airport was built with a tag price of EC$700 million and is considered a major political achievement of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves in particular, who has come under intense criticism at home over the project, which is six years behind schedule.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro is among those expected to attend and address the ceremonial opening of the facility next Tuesday.
Venezuela and Cuba were among those countries that helped Gonsalves fulfil his dream of building an international airport in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Ross, whose office space is shared with the consulate general, said that, as the tourism representative for many years, the AIA is “definitely a most welcome addition to all the good things the destination has to offer.
“For many years, I have listened to travel agents and consumers talk about the beauty of the destination and, at the same time, lament the difficulty in getting there because of inadequate airlift. We expect AIA will boost our tourism industry, bringing many more visitors to our shores.
“In addition to boosting tourism, the international airport will improve the performance of other critical sectors, like agriculture and fisheries.
“To everyone joining us on the Caribbean Airlines charter on Feb. 14, I welcome the opportunity to be with you on this very historic flight, when one lucky person will have the opportunity to win an exciting package for two at the Bequia Beach Hotel on Bequia,” she added.
The chartered flights on Caribbean Airlines and Dynamics Airline will leave New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, on Feb. 14, for AIA, returning on Feb. 21.
Lennox Joslyn, chairman of the Fundraising Committee of the Brooklyn-based umbrella Vincentian group in the United States, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO), said he can’t wait to land at AIA.
“It’s an historic flight, and I can’t miss this for the world. I think it’s a significant milestone for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and all Vincentians should embrace it, as we move forward.
“I want all Vincentians to move on this (welcome AIA),” added Joslyn, a member of the Brooklyn-based Striders Social and Cultural Organization, who was born at Diamond, a short distance from AIA.
“Forget about politics,” he insists.
The long-standing president of the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ex-Teachers Association, Jackson Farrell, has expressed similar views.
Addressing the 34th Anniversary Luncheon of his group in Brooklyn last month, he told the audience “the airport, whether we like it or not, is coming on stream.
“When the Comrade (Prime Minister Gonsalves) passes on, the airport will still be there. So, let us stop the dotishness (doltishness) and opposition to the international airport.”
In his remarks in the souvenir journal, Farrell, who taught elementary and secondary schools in SVG before migrating to New York, said the opening of the AIA brings with it “blessings and challenges” and that his association has been “an integral part” of the Brooklyn-based Friends of Argyle International Airport that has been raising funds to assist construction of the airport.
“We have stated clearly that we recognise certain projects purely through the prism of national interest and not as any political partisan objective,” Farrell said.
Prince, who also addressed the ceremony, said he had been receiving a number of inquiries about the AIA’s official opening and charter flights on the opening day and that an overwhelming number of Vincentians in the Diaspora were looking forward to landing at home.
“One stop! SVG we coming!” he exclaimed. “One stop! SVG we coming!”
Last year, the International Airport Development Company (IADC), a limited liability company wholly owned by the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said that work on the AIA was “winding down”.
“Since construction started in August 2008, Vincentians have waited in anticipation of the completion of this project,” said IADC on its website, adding that, after several missed dates, “completion is on the horizon”.
Chief executive officer of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority, Glen Beache, said in a statement that the AIA boasts a runway that is 9,000 ft. long and 250 ft. wide, and is “capable of accommodating aircraft as large as Boeing 747-400’s”.
He said the 171, 000 sq. ft. terminal building is designed to accommodate 1.5 million passengers annually.
Beache, a former tourism minister, in the Gonsalves administration, said AIA is further enhanced with two jet bridges, restaurants, bars and other shops — “all designed to provide passengers and airport employees with a pleasant experience…
“Tourism has been the major economic earner for St. Vincent and the Grenadines for the last two decades, and it is expected that the new international airport will increase earnings in this sector, as well as other critical sectors, including agriculture, fisheries,” Beache said.