Argyle International Airport, seen from the northern end of the runway, on Jan. 1, 2015. (IWN photo)

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

At some point during 2014, three years after construction of the Argyle International Airport was originally slated to have been completed, the term “substantially complete” came into use by the people in charge of the enterprise. Now, it’s all we hear. In response to my critique of the enterprise published in September 2014, Dr Rudy Matthias, chairman and CEO asserted that the “IADC, as project manager is doing all in its power to deliver to the Government and People of St. Vincent and the Grenadines an international airport at Argyle, which would be substantially complete by December 2014, and would, God’s willing, become operational by mid 2015.” The emphasis in the quote is mine.

That message was repeated early in November 2014 when Dr Matthias reiterated the “solemn pledge of trying to complete this Argyle International Airport substantially by the end of this year, so that we can begin operations. And truly, we want to begin operations, by mid next year” he said.

Related: Short Stories Worth Telling, Episode 1: How much rain actually fell during July to October this year (2014)?

It’s now January 2015 and we have received no confirmation from the authorities that the airport is substantially complete so naturally, the question arises: what is this thing called substantial completion — what does it mean in general and, more importantly, what does it mean in relation to what is happening at Argyle?

Substantial completion simply means that the thing you are building has reached a stage of completion where it can be put to the basic use for which it is intended. If you are building a house (ie: a dwelling for one or more persons), the house is substantially complete when the roof is on and windows and doors are in place to provide shelter and security; when basic finishing has been applied and when amenities such as plumbing fixtures and so on are in place. The structure may be unpainted and there may be things missing here and there — but at this point, someone can live in the house in a reasonably safe and secure fashion. It can be considered substantially complete.

When is an international airport substantially complete? The purpose of the facility is to allow passenger aircraft of a certain size and type to land; to disembark arriving passengers and to collect passengers for an outward trip, through a controlled process. Therefore, the facility cannot be substantially complete if, say, the runway has not yet been constructed. That would be like a house without a roof.

So here’s the situation at Argyle.

Figure 1 below shows an image (the original was retrieved from the IADC’s website) which is an official IADC rendering of what the finished airport site should look like, if viewed from directly above.

Figure 1: General plan (2013) of the Argyle International Airport (source: IADC)
Figure 1: General plan (2013) of the Argyle International Airport (source: IADC)

That horizontal grey strip with the bits sticking out above the horizontal and at the ends is the proposed runway; the complete grey area is the pavement (comprised of runway, aprons, taxiways and turning heads). Note that the above rendering should (but doesn’t) show the commercial, general and cargo aprons in grey.

Figure 2 below shows an aerial photograph of the site, taken on 28th December 2014, with an artist’s rendering of the pavement superimposed.

Figure 2: Aerial view of Argyle site with artist’s rendering of pavement superimposed
Figure 2: Aerial view of Argyle site with artist’s rendering of pavement superimposed

(The photo is actually two photos taken seconds apart and subsequently stitched together). It’s basically an image put together to show approximately what the site should look like on substantial completion.

And figure 3 below shows what the site actually looked like on 28th December, 2014.

Figure 3: Aerial view of Argyle International Airport site at Dec. 28, 2014
Figure 3: Aerial view of Argyle International Airport site at Dec. 28, 2014

The commercial apron (the light-coloured rectangle directly in front of the blue-roofed terminal building) is substantially complete, as is the turning head (the light-coloured polygon) at the northern end. But, as we can clearly see, the general aviation apron, the cargo apron, the taxiways, the southern turning head and the entire runway are missing. These bits represent about 85% of the pavement (yes, I did a rough calculation) so only about 15 percent of the pavement works had been completed by the end of 2014.

It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway, just in case) that 15 percent of anything hardly constitutes substantial, far less complete. And bear in mind that the work on the pavement started in September 2013, so the 15 percent of the pavement you see above has taken about 15 months to build. If future work were to proceed at the same rate, we could expect the pavement works to be completed in about another 7 years, with substantial completion in 2022 or thereabouts (assuming that other necessary elements are completed as well). That’s a long way from now, so one hopes that the folks in charge can speed things up.

But look again at figure 3. It speaks for itself — and it speaks volumes, when taken in the context of the confident assertions made just over two months ago, by the people running the show. Essentially, what the CEO of the IADC advised us in November 2014 was that, despite the fact that it took them 15 months to complete about 15 percent of the pavement works, no problem! The remaining 85 percent would be done in two months!

This is yet another clear illustration of the absurd state of affairs that is the enterprise to build an international airport at Argyle — and it indicates that the people running the show either (a) have no idea what they are doing and therefore saying, or (b) are deliberately lying to Vincentians. Which is worse? Or is it both?

Now, some proponents of the undertaking will doubtless rebut the above with “so what if the airport finishes how many years late? At least it was started, and it will be finished” (several commentators have already said essentially this on Facebook). So, ok — let’s ignore the hugely important fact that a publicly-funded undertaking of unprecedented size and cost, originally scheduled to be completed in 3 years, is now into its 7th year with no credible end in sight, and let’s assume for the sake of argument that it will get finished at some point. Two important questions are still raised. The first is: will the facility have been built to spec? In other words, will the finally-constructed international airport facility meet the various international technical and operational specifications that it must meet to be certified as such? I guess we’ll have to wait until actual completion for the answer to that question. But, assuming it will meet the requirements, the second question is: which airlines will be flying to Argyle when it is operational? Hold the cold Ju-C and hot tri-tri cakes, that’s another story.

Herbert A (Haz) Samuel

January 2015

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

13 replies on “Short Stories Worth Telling, Episode 2: Is Argyle Airport Substantially Complete?”

  1. Clement Percival says:

    Nuff said!! So much for all the convoluted arguments and protestations of faith. I am simply appalled at the blunt refusal to to think for themselves that is revealed in by those whose only viewpoint is the myopic ” We want we airport and Ralph giving we.. ” What else can be said other than, ” Wha’ sweet in goat mout’ go sour in he bambam” !!

  2. Clement Percival says:

    By the way, Bro ‘Haz, did you know that the EIA spoke about the destruction of trip-tri habitat as a result of the impact on the adjacent caused by the airport construction? So we may have to wait a very long time for enough hot trip-tri cakes!! Well, just another aspect of the costs of this ULP joke played on the Vincentian people

  3. Patrick Ferrari says:

    “The EC$208 million that the Government will borrow will complete the EC$652 million Argyle airport, Minister of Works Sen. Julian Francis says” – IWN (11-06-2013).
    “And I bring the argument again that I advanced last time I advanced in 2006 that I am convinced, in my analysis, that the international airport and the project [sic], that on completion, the Arnos Vale crown jewel that we own, the Arnos Vale 62 acres [of land], will be valued more than whatever bridging and interim financing we have for the international airport.” Julian Francis said in June 2013. That is a new and unique – not to mention ULP Government – take on “bridging.” And on “interim.”
    Mr Samuel, again, brilliant … but. But you’ve overlooked three important points.
    One; they said “substantially complete,” which means they – not you, and no dictionary – own the definition. They clearly demonstrated owning the definition when Glen Beache was caught with his pants down, with public interest in one hand, private (his marketing company) in the other and was in charge of spending other people’s – ours – money to market tourism. And then look how easy they buried embezzlement when monies was embezzled from the Registry under the ex-senator’s wife. And don’t forget, when they realized that they had to big back up the runway, re-doing “that particular area,” would not “interfere with the progress of the project” – Ralph. And “it was just a matter of a few hours extra work (to re-do the entire thing)” – Jennifer Richardson, (The News, 16-05-2014). It is either that these people don’t know which end up; or think we don’t – including you, Mr Samuel.
    Two; Matthias said that “IADC, as project manager is doing all in its power to deliver (blah, blah, blah).” Now, he or they, whatever, may not be powerful in that area, which you correctly questioned, but when it, “substantially complete” is not delivered it does not mean he is not doing all in his power. It is just simply no enough even if they are doing all. So maybe we go have to cut the poor man some slack. Cut some slack my backside.
    Three; if you listen to Matthias, “substantially complete” is not an engineering substantially complete. It is slimy, slippery legalese. “Substantially complete” is only a “solemn pledge of trying … (to get there).” Sounds to me like is a lawyer what writing his speeches.
    I find Figure 3 grey and depressing. Perhaps you had poor visibility?

  4. What this analysis ignores is that while the “15 percent” of the paving work was being done, the fire and rescue station, the control tower, and much earthwork was simultaneously being done. Now that these structures are complete, more resources can be concentrated on the paving and retrofitting works. An airport is not just a runway. Can’t wait for the airline announcements and the new resort at Peter’s Hope. Forward Ever; Backwards Never!

    1. Not quite, Dunstanj. If you understand how large, complex construction projects are planned, organized and implemented, you will know that on a properly organized project, everything that can be done “simultaneously”, is in fact done simultaneously. That’s normal. So accordingly, the pavement works, once started, should be carried out simultaneously with the work on the buildings and should not have to wait until resources are freed up on completion of the fire station and control tower.

      More importantly, if the project had a proper schedule, the execution of the pavement works would be on the ‘critical path’ of that schedule. The critical path is the sequence of tasks within a project schedule that, if any delay is incurred in any task along this path, a delay to the overall completion date will result. Therefore, a competent project contractor (overseen by a competent project manager) would focus priority and resources on critical path tasks (including, in this case, the pavement works). You are (inadvertently, I suppose) admitting that the opposite has happened in this case.

      Anyway, the point here is not so much about my analysis; I have only reminded readers what the CEO of the IADC has repeatedly said, and pointed out a few related facts. You should be more worried about the IADC’s analysis, if the CEO is blissfully unaware of the amount of work that remains to be done on the undertaking that he is in charge of.

    2. So explain to me – why couldn’t we work on the runway while we were building the fire station? Is it that the same people would have been doing both? It does seem to me (but I am not an engineer) that the skills required for building a fire station are somewhat different from the skills required for building a runway that will be required to support a large jet plane – different personnel requirements.
      Or is it that the “project manager”/CEO of the IADC could give his attention to the runway while the fire station and/or control tower were being constructed? Again. I’m no expert on the construction of airports, but I would have thought that there would have been different sub-contractors for these very different bits of construction, who would each have individual time frames and specifications for construction.
      Or is it that we don’t have the money to pay for both works at the same time? So what happened to the “we have all the money for the airport” that we were told at the outset of this venture?
      In construction different aspects might have to proceed consecutively if one item has to be in place before another item can be constructed. Otherwise the only constraint on concurrent construction is the availability of resources. So what is it that we do not have? Money, materials or personnel?

      1. Pat you are wrong, its Pedro and his same workmen that are spanning the river, building the runways and sheet piling the sea defences and the sea oil/fuel terminal that has got to be built.

        Stop press, new information tells me that the sea oil terminal has been cancelled, and the sheet piling has been cancelled, no money left for these two important parts of the project.

        Latest is they have run out of money to pay the Cubans because of the price of oil, no PetroCarib money available.

        But your right about all the buildings they were all built by outside contractors on fairly good time schedules. Had IADC or the Cubans been involved in any of those they may have been finished in 2025.

        You see the Cubans have no contract, no time schedules to finish the project. They like SVG so they are just taking their time, it’s like a day work contract with no completion date.

        That’s what happens when an idiot takes on something he knows nothing at all about. Talking crap in parliament and in our courts is very different to actually doing things like building an airport.

        I just cannot believe that any lawyer anywhere in the world would take on people like the Cubans and Venezuelans without hard written contracts, but in this case it’s all down to a simple commy salute, or what called the middle finger. We have all seen that salute before, when it was made to all Vincentians if you remember.

  5. HAZ, that’s another piece with the obvious input of a man of intelligence, your details and engineering background input shines through with a shimmering brilliance.

    I always said you are one of our high fliers, the areal pictures of the airport prove just how high you fly.

    Thanks from every intelligent Vincentian, the others you will hear from shortly with their silly commentaries.

  6. Patrick Ferrari says:

    Dunstanj, you can’t wait for airlines announcement? Well, you’re going to have to, lad. And wait. And wait. Then wait some more still. Like the rest of us. Is years now we’ve been waiting. And do like we: doan hold your breath.

    Just watch how much longer you go have to wait. And when the time comes, it go blow your mind to see who go come. And how often.

    In 2012, Beache said he knew which ones were flying in and promised to announce it by the middle of 2013. Now is 2015 and nothing. He said it was a (state) secret so that the competition (I imagine he meant Barbados, St Lucia, and Grenada) wouldn’t nab them. Which airlines they could have meant that don’t already fly to the “competition” that would come here, beats me.

    Except, I suppose, Air Berlin. But we are safe with Air Berlin, because Beache said they called us – and made it clear not we them. He made them sound like a never see come see airline that wants to come to a shiny new airport. He said Air Berlin told him that they want to expand their operations in the Caribbean. Never mind that there are other Caribbean islands with existing international airports and far superior tourism facilities, Air Berlin wants to come here because what they are doing is so wonderful.

    Lard, they take all of we for the few of them – stupid.

  7. Once again a nice piece by Haz with details and info from IADC, not hearsay or rumours, to support what he’s writing. As happened before we await a lonnng ‘lawyer letter’ response that suppose to be critical of Haz but really supports everything he writes. This project was never about airport, it was all about ketchin dem fo election, no Cabinet or Parliament knew about this, majority of gov’t ministers only heard about it the same way we did. The amount of companies that have been formed since this project started is another story by itself.

  8. Clement Percival says:

    I have previously lamented the abject and blatant refusal of so many persons to open their God given minds and think for themselves. It revealed here again by one Dunstanj. Mr. Ferrari is so correct about waiting for the airlines announcements. There are a number of factors that determine if an airline would come to a particular destination, the least of which is the desire on the part of that destination authorities that the airline should come. There has to be destination based characteristics, including touristic assets that would attract visitors in sufficiently large numbers, immediate availability of hotel rooms, a sufficient number of experienced and efficient of ground handlers/destination management companies, a proper and well developed internal transportation network including suitable vehicles, the willingness and ability of the government to provide financial support in various forms to that airline, and so on, and so on. How well positioned on these factors and others which I have not bothered to mention is SVG? We have to be real and live in the real world!! Not a make believe one where the Great Ralph could simply snap his fingers and all will be well. So I fully agree with Mr. Ferrari. Even if the airport is completed some time down the road ” doan hol’ we breath” regarding airlines flying in. And one or two will not cut it!! By the way, does any one recall the Bequia airport? Which was built with European GRANT MONEY!! And which was to change the face of tourism in Bequia and the Grenadines? What’s happening with it today?? What has been the real measurable impact? PLEASE, MY PEOPLE, PLEASE!! THINK FOR YOURSELVES.

  9. Mr. Samuel’s telling photographs serve as more evidence to support the assertion that I and others have been making for some time now: Argyle International Airport (AIA) is being built as a political “show-port” not as a functioning airport (see https://www.iwnsvg.com/2014/09/17/get-ready-for-a-november-election/).

    Why else was there no detailed feasibility study, no proper financing or budgeting, no large work force using lots of labour-saving equipment, no independent oversight, no concern about missed deadlines, and no study of the more productive uses that could have been made of the monies borrowed?

    The conception, planning, and construction of AIG has been nothing more than a very clever ruse by a very clever man to maintain political power from one election to another. It was the very idea of building the airport — not its completion, not its operation, not its hypothetical economic spin-offs — that has always been an end in itself. This is a “political airport,” nothing more, nothing less — a modern day Egyptian pyramid meant to shock-and-awe a gullible electorate.

    And shocked and awed they will certainly be when, years down the road, this masterstroke is revealed for all to see for what it really is: the Vincentian political hoax of all time.

  10. Peter, from your comment I don’t think I’m wrong. If one set of people doing the runway, the sea defenses and the oil terminal then (a) we don’t have the personnel, (b) we probably don’t have the resources to pay for the skills we need, (as Haz pointed out things can be done concurrently) and even worse (c) we seem not to have anyone in charge who knows what he’s doing. A fine way to build an international airport!

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