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According to Ralph Gonsalves, as recorded in Hansard, Sir James Mitchell had previously proposed spending $80 million in extending the runway into the sea at Arnos Vale. Had that been undertaken we can be sure that we would have had a decent jet port open and running many years ago. But Gonsalves went on to say in Parliament as per the Hansard:
“The experts in the Ministries in the administration has indicated that we ought not to proceed with an original plan of Sir James to spend about $80 million US dollars on the ET Joshua Airport. We know that many members of the NDP cabinet then did not want to go along with Sir James idea. That is because, even though you extend the ET Joshua runway it does not alter the nature of the airport because of the wind factor.
“We are looking at airport development actively elsewhere. There is Argyle and we may well even consider seriously, and in fact it is under study, of extending the Airport in Canouan to make it a jet airport and do the shuttle from Canouan; because we – you go to Hewanorra in St.Lucia you have to shuttle to come up to Castries, for an extra $25 or you have to take a vehicle and hour and half two hours to get into Castries from Hewanorra. Or if you land in Piarco you have to travel an hour and half to go down San Fernando. So what is the problem if we were to extend the facility down in Canouan and you have to travel ten more minutes by air to get into Arnos Vale? I noticed the Honourable Member for the Southern Grenadines smiling.
“The NDP could not have extended Canouan to a jet airport because they would have said they are selling out; Grenadines’ people want to sell out mainland St. Vincent. But I am a countryman I could do that. My navel string bury here in the mainland. So those are all the options we are looking at with the issue of the air access and if the Honourable Member for the Southern Grenadines, if he wants to find out more information about these matters he can come in, I can let him speak to the persons in the Ministry personally. We have nothing to hide, you know, this is the people’s business. I am obliged”
HANSARD: No. 3 TUESDAY Second Session 19th February 2002, Seventh Parliament SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES THE PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES (EXCERPT, HANSARD) [Pm Gonsalves speaks in place of the Minister of National Security, the Public Service and Airport Development , Honourable Vincent Beache, who is absent]
You will notice that Gonsalves refers to the wind factor at Arnos Vale airport being a problem. Yet goes and builds an airport with several times more wind problems at Argyle.
He states that the cost of the Sir James Mitchell proposed extension of Arnos Vale airport was only $80 million, which we can now compare with a billion at Argyle.
He recognises that perhaps a jetport at Canouan would suffice. He even argues how it would work, comparing it with St. Lucia. He said “what is the problem if we were to extend the facility down in Canouan and you have to travel ten more minutes by air to get into Arnos Vale”.
There was no need to build an airport at Argyle that will facilitate 10 wide-bodied jets a day carrying 400 passengers on each. It was the most stupid decision ever made by any Vincentian in the history of the State, before and after British rule. Why? Because that figure will never be achievable, to or from Argyle International Airport.
As for the shipping by air of farmers’ produce, that’s a dream unless we find a new crop that will sell abroad for $2 a pound and you then give all that to the airline. And regardless, a jetport at Arnos Vale would have been cheaper to run, jets of the Amerijet company could fly in and out all day long. If the export market was available why have we failed to export from our Canouan jetport or better still the current ET Joshua airport at Arnos Vale?
If you go to the Arnos Vale airport, some nights you can see hundreds of boxes of flowers being flown out. If there were more expensive flowers and high priced produce Arnos Vale could and would ship it. So forget the crap about how the new Argyle airport will bring a new benefit to the farmers, because it will not, that is a straightforward lie — a lie put forward to fool and deceive the farmers, perhaps also the more stupid non-farmer ULP, who will believe anything they are fed.
Back to the point about the airport being built at Argyle. We never needed an airport to be built at Argyle, an area with bigger than big winds. We will never have the capacity to service such a large project, we will never have enough air traffic to be able to keep open, maintain and run an airport that is far to big an airport for Saint Vincent.
All we ever needed was two jetports, one at Arnos Vale and one at Canouan. The Arnos Vale Jetport would serve business and Vincentian local traffic, and Vincentian Diaspora generated traffic. The Canouan jetport would service the Grenadine bound tourists, Grenadine Vincentians and Grenadine business. That’s all we ever needed
Both those airport could handle aircraft up to 240 seats. That will never be more than we need, along with LIAT. We must not forget that Vincentians will still “to and fro” between the islands served by LIAT.
The distances from Argyle to Kingstown should have made Argyle a no-go project. More so, the distance for onward travellers by ferry to the Grenadines. No overnight hotels available at Argyle Airport. People living on the Leeward side of St. Vincent will feel they are on a trip to the moon when they set out for Argyle. What a very foolish location indeed. It also took the islands finest farmlands and destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of farm folk.
Remember the little Canouan airport was changed into a jetport. The Canouan Jetport was officially opened on Sunday May 11, 2008. The upgrading of Canouan airport into a new jetport, which included an addition of 2,700 feet to the existing runway, bringing it to a total of 5,900 feet, the installation of an air traffic control cabin, new airfield lighting, the extension of the terminal building, provision for more apron space, and improvement to the firefighting facilities. It only cost $58 million, a large amount that only sounds small against the billion-dollar project at Argyle. What makes everything that much worse, according to the ULP government they have tried every way possible to attract airlines to fly to Canouan, not a single one has. Now if they cannot get airlines to fly directly to the Grenadines, then what chance of anyone of them ever flying to Argyle?
I want you all to consider if this is a possibility. How about if Canouan Jetport was never marketed, it was just built and left un-marketed, lest the Grenadine direct flight tourists don’t pass through Argyle Airport, and exposes it as a bigger flop than it’s destined to be.
All we ever needed was two Jetports, one at Arnos Vale and one at Canouan. Did Prime Minister Gonsalves actually know that in 2002? Or did he simply decide he had to finish the work of Maurice Bishop and build at Argyle?
I suppose building an airport at Argyle has been good for the Cubans. We have supported the Cuban economy at the expense of bankrupting SVG. The Cubans have taken a two-year project and made it a ten-year project, what a nice little earner for Cuba.
All that money pumped into the Argyle Airport from PetroCaribe could have built us two new hospitals, rebuilt every single road in SVG. It could have made every single Vincentian that little better off. We could have all had wage increase in line with inflation. Instead we are very much poorer, just to fulfill one man’s dream. Tourism, agriculture and the Vincentian way of life almost down the drain.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.