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Argyle International Airport is expected to become operational this year. (Photo: Friends of AIA/Facebook)
Argyle International Airport is expected to become operational this year. (Photo: Friends of AIA/Facebook)
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Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace is questioning the government’s projection of increased tourist arrivals in 2015 because of the Argyle International Airport, noting the government has also saying that no international carrier has committed to fly to the airport.

The EC$729 million international airport, the nation’s first, has been under construction since 2008.

The project has missed several completion deadlines, including December 2014, when it should have been “substantially complete” and ready to receive flights from the middle of this year.

The airport “will be completed this year and ready for operation,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said in his Budget Address last week.

He said that the marketing of the airport continues apace and several airlines have expressed interest in adding St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to their routes.

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“Air service agreements are expected in the first half of 2015 with several of them,” Gonsalves said.

Eustace in his response to the Budget, read in Parliament last week media reports in which Minister of Tourism Cecil “Ces” McKie and head of the Tourism Authority Glen Beache addressed issues relating to the airport and the tourism sector.

McKie told reporters last August that the government did not know which airlines are interested in flying into Argyle International Airport.

“You don’t have one airline committed to fly into St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2014 — not one!” Eustace said.

Related: No ‘exact names’ yet of airlines planning to fly to Argyle Airport

He noted that Beache, who was Minister of Tourism at the time, said in October 2010 a number of major airlines has expressed interest in flying to SVG when the Argyle airport is completed.

“I can guarantee this, that we will have at least one major airline coming in from each of the big three countries. When I say that, I mean Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom,” Beache said.

Speaking to the Vincentian media after returning to SVG from a number of trade shows in Canada, Beache cited feedback from West Jet Airlines, Jet Blue, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airlines, and other airlines.

“I think out of all the meetings that took place, British Airways was the most promising … I think if we had finished negotiations in terms of certain things being put in place, British Airways was ready to sign on the dotted line,” Beache told the 2010 press briefing.

Eustace said that in light of Beache’s comments in 2010, he was “confused by his statement in December” 2014, when he told the local media that given that SVG has no history of direct international travel, there is no way of knowing what sort of traffic will come into the country, once the airport is open.

“We didn’t know that all the time?” Eustace said, adding, “Yet you are projecting increases.”

The Opposition Leader noted that Beache had said that the airline would not want to take “all of the risk”.

“We didn’t know that all the time? Which investor takes all the risk? Only an idiot investor, and he wouldn’t be an investor for long,” Eustace said.

He noted that Beache also said in December that SVG would have to help the airlines with some of the risk, saying, “That’s going to be the sticking point.”

“You haven’t decided that in December 2014, but you are projecting your arrivals on the assumption that airport will be open and planes will be flying to bring the people. Who are you fooling?” Eustace said.

Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace as he responded to the Budget. (IWN Photo)
Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace as he responded to the Budget. (IWN Photo)

He, however, told lawmakers that the part of Beache’s comments that “gripped” him, was when was the former tourism minister said, “This has been an eye opener for me.”

“This is the man who’s negotiating since years ago — four and five years before 2012 — and he is saying this, in terms of the risk, is an eye opener for him.”

Beache had noted to the press briefing in December his expertise in marketing, saying, “I mean marketing is my forte, but the airline industry has so many intricacies. Are we going to waive the apron fees? Are we going to waive the landing fees? Are the crew members going to be able to stay free overnight? Are we going to take up that cost or are the airlines going to take up that cost?”

“These are the questions we are asking in December 2014, with an airport that we say is going to be opened in 2015, that was to open last year? We are not serious! We are not serious! This is the head of the Tourism Authority, who is responsible …to the minister, for the industry in St. Vincent and the Grenadines — and a former tourism minister.

“He says that is a sticking point and that was an eye opener for him. After years of negotiation, you don’t know that the airlines want some concessions? You can’t tell me that. You cannot tell me that. We are not serious on that matter. “While work is going on the airport, I don’t believe that you having any airport for 2015 anyway. But this is what you are saying. This is what you are saying. And this is what the CEO of the Tourism Authority is saying. Mr. Minister, you agree with that?” Eustace said.

He further pointed out that Beache said that the airlines would not fly to St. Vincent if doing so is unprofitable.

“You mean to tell me Beache now know that the airlines won’t come unless they going to make a profit? Come on, this is 2014 — the end of 2014. Mr. Minister, you couldn’t possibly agree with that,” Eustace said.

This is a Nansi story you know –this whole thing here. I don’t know if you gave him authority to make that statement, Mr. Minister. This is a very serious matter. Here we are talking about an airport costing hundreds of millions of dollars — we don’t know the full cost yet — and six months or so before it opens, the person responsible for negotiating with the airlines now finding out if they can’t make profit they ain’t coming,” Eustace said.

He pointed to the experiences of other countries in the region.

“We know all along that St. Lucia and Grenada in their airports had to pay American Airlines to land. So you don’t expect that you have to give concessions?

“Come on! What nonsense is this? Are we serious about this industry? Are we even serious about the airport? Because its benefits are supposed to come by bringing increased … passengers and after all these years, you can’t get anything done in terms of airlines coming in? What’s this?

“Mr. Speaker, no airline is coming here unless they can make money. You know that is an axiom — it is a truth which is self-evident that can be accepted without a thought,” Eustace said.

6 replies on “Eustace questions projected tourism boom without airlines committing to fly to Argyle”

  1. Clement Percival says:

    I know that this is a serious mater, but I couldn’t help burst out in laughter as I heard Arnhim on Thursday. I mean, Arnhim is so right. These people cannot be serious, so I could only laugh. I have said earlier that the supposed outcomes of this project is the biggest political hoax, and therefore joke, that has been played on the people of this country. What Arnhim is saying that Beache now realize , as per his December statement, is what so many of us have been saying for sometime now! We could have told him so if he had asked. It was absolutely heart wrenching tho hear the numbers read out by Arnhim, on our tourism performance. Yet we spinning out almost $1billion, on an airport against that background. Where is our sense of reality? As I said before, the airport will change nothing, unless our tourism profile changes. Unfortunately there is no strategy whatsoever to do that. That is where our focus should have been, then we could talk about airport. Here is a perfect example of the cart before the horse. When will our people wake up to the tremendous follies of Ralph Gonsalves? And do something about it!?

    1. Clement, your quite right of course. I can understand those Vincentians in the Diaspora coming home occasionally. That may account for 5 or 6000 a year. As for straight forward tourists, what would they come to Saint Vincent for? No white beaches to speak of, one resort which is looking tardy when I saw it a few weeks ago, and expensive. Only a handful of hotels, certainly not enough to cater for a full on tourist industry. Why on earth would a tourist want to come to Saint Vincent? Why?

      Let me answer that for you, they may come for the Grenadines, but we have a fully operational Jetport now at Canouan, yet not a single commercial airline flies in there. The runway and facilities were extended and improved, and it didn’t attract any tourism whatsoever. No airline chose to fly there, and no Vincentians in the Diaspora chose to charter to there, not a single one. No tourists chose to fly, or even swim there. If we cannot market Canouan right bang in the middle of the Grenadines, what chance do we have of marketing Argyle.

      They may come for the Grenadines to go yachting, leaving from Saint Vincent, that business is already there. Building a $1 billion dollar airport at Argyle will not improve that trade. Yet the Canouan airport which in the middle of the Grenadines is still a virtual ghost of an airport.

      Now we have the Cuban competition to contend with. Wonderful white beaches, beautiful sailing, fishing, snorkelling and diving. Hotels range from $20 US up, bed and breakfast available for $10. A big sex trade attraction and a vibrant alive nightlife. Now they are opening up, they will draw tourists away from all the other Caribbean islands.

      The Cubans will take 10 years to complete a 2 year airport project in SVG, they have taken the stuffing out of our economy and are laughing all the way to the bank.

      According to PM Gonsalves the Venezuelans promised to pay the Cubans wages, the didn’t. They gave $10 million towards some second hand plant and machinery, the other $70million we paid ourselves. We have been stuffed inside out by this collection of ALBARISED Marxist Monsters, and our Prime Minister has allowed them to do just that to us, between them and him we have been taken on a ride to hell for the next 75 years trying to pay back the debt dumped on us and our great grandchildren.

      1. Clement Percival says:

        Thanks, you are right on. In an earlier post I had also mentioned the Bequia airport, which,while not a jetport, was constructed in the early nineties on the premise that it would impact arrivals into Bequia and the rest of the Grenadines. Did it? The refusal to use available evidence to inform policy and choices that mark how things are done in SVG is frightening . This ridiculous approach could only result is a huge cost down the road. But ruling politicians who make these foolish decisions usually take the view that “if I can realize a political gain now, the economic and social losses down the road will be for other people to deal with, not for me!”
        And by the way, just to be clear, I am not discarding the touristic possibilities of SVG. I am only saying that it has not been developed at all, in a well thought out manner, building on real things. The diversion of much needed resources that could have been used to do that into an airport which cannot deliver what it has been promoted to do, because the platform is not there, could only be regarded as the height of folly.

  2. Scheduled airlines (as opposed to charter companies) have their exact flight itineraries publically available for booking one-year in advance. Look on the Internet for proof of this: you can book a flight on all planes of any major airline for January 2, 2016 right this minute. This means that if the airline makes a change to fly its scheduled planes to SVG, it would have to cancel flights elsewhere and reimburse the passengers, something that would never happen.

    Also, since no airline can commit to flying to Argyle until the airport is both completed — a long, long time from now — and approved by the relevant overseas agencies — a lengthy process as well — no regularly scheduled airline can possibly service the airport this year or next.

    People should not be fooled by silly politically-motivated promises from false prophets.

  3. Many people were asking several pertinent questions about the airport for years and the ULP refused to answer. They said many people were against the airport because of those same questions. Many ULP backers thought all one had to do was to wish for an airport and it will appear. Well things don’t work that way and now they are still giving some bogus excuses why the airport is still unfinished.
    These ULP folks don’t just have egg on their faces; it turned out to be shit on their faces. The truth was there for all to see, yet they refuse to believe this project was far too big and complicated for one man – Ralph, to handle. All they had to do was to look at Ralph’s record and they would have seen the man never completed any meaningful project since he formed the government. He has been a failure and many people know that. Only those on the gravy train can’t see the truth or refuse to see that this government is taking the nation to the dump heap. How long can they suck on the nation’s breast before the milk runs dry?

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