The long-delayed Argyle International Airport is practically finished, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on Thursday after four small aircraft landed at the EC$729 million facility that has been under construction for almost 8 years.
His comments came even as he said about one-third of the 9,000-foot runway is yet to be paved.
“Well, the airport, is, for all practical purposes, finished. Because, we are now doing the fencing, the internal roads are being done and you have a small part of the runway of 9,000 feet to be asphalted. We have put in all the covers for the two rivers and everything is in place with finishing touches,” he said in response to critics of the project.
“Today is a magnificent day that the Lord has made and we must be glad. We must be happy, we must be thankful and rejoice in it,” said Gonsalves who kissed the wet ground after disembarking an Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority aircraft that conducted tests at the airport — the first aircraft to land there.
Three other aircraft also landed at the airport.
“I want to say it has been a very emotional afternoon for me when I landed. I know the journey which we have travelled and we are within touching distance of the finishing line,” he told a ceremony on the apron of the airport.
Gonsalves thanked Director General of ECCAA, Donald McPhail — who also addressed the ceremony, noting that from the very inception, the IADC has been working with ECCAA.
“So that when I said that this airport is following all the guidelines and regulations and stipulation of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, I knew what was happening.
“At the same time, those opposed to the airport were saying we are going to build it and then no plane is going to land here.”
He said that recently in New York structural engineer, Hugh Stewart, said in the presence of Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace, that no aircraft will ever land at Argyle,
“Well, you heard Mr. McPhail nail down the lie. You have seen with your own eye that planes have landed and the regulators have done their work in respect of the approach light and a number of other tests performed by them about the safety and security of this airport,” Gonsalves said.
He also noted the comments of pilot Jonathan Palmer, who has over 40 years of flight experience, and whom he described as “the dean of pilots in St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
Palmer told the ceremony that landing was “very routine” and as he anticipated.
“You are beginning to see the untruths, the lies, the falsehoods perpetrated for political reasons against this dream of an international airport, which has become a reality,” Gonsalves said.
“And those who have opposed this have done so for political reasons.”
Gonsalves said that a few weeks ago, the Caribbean Metrological Organisation reported that there is no need for any crosswind runway at the airport, and the Prime Minister noted that the pilots endorsed that view.
“I just want every single one of you to remember what has been said and the corrections which we now expect them to issue. But, of course, this is an election period, they will not do that. They will continue with many of their falsehoods, their lies, their distortions,” Gonsalves said.
General elections are scheduled for Dec. 9.
The Prime Minister also said critics of the project say that the government does not have the money to finish the airport, but refuted this claim.
He noted that the two air bridges, each costing US$1 million, have been installed and said that MP for the Northern Grenadines, Godwin Friday, an incumbent opposition lawmaker, has said that the government was unable to get the airstrip right and no one knew if planes could land at the airport, but the government was installing air bridges.
He also said that MP for West Kingstown, Daniel Cummings, also an incumbent opposition lawmaker, said that the government had installed air bridges and was behaving like people with champagne taste and mauby pockets, a colloquial expression referring to someone who wants things that they cannot afford.
“They have no understanding of anything. All that is driving them is their hatred of Ralph and their love for power and their standing askance from the power of love,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sen. Camillo Gonsalves, in his speech at the event, thanked all the entities that have contributed to the construction of the airport.
Gonsalves said that the people put leaders in place through the direction and guidance of God.
God, he said, raises up leaders for particular times.
“And I believe that the leadership of the Unity Labour Party, that we were raised at this time in this period to, among other things, build an international airport because we are the ones who possess the vision and ability to bring it about and we have done so and we thank Almighty God for guiding the people to put us in office repeatedly.”
The airport was first announced in August 2005 and actual construction began three years later.
Gonsalves noted that head of the state-owned International Airport Development Company, Rudolph “Rudy” Matthias told the ceremony that the finishing touches will be put on the airport over the next couple of months.
“We started it from scratch and in less than eight years, seven years plus, we are completing it,” he said.
“We have moved four mountains and filled four valleys. We have moved 134 middle-income houses and caused them to be built elsewhere. We have spanned a river and a stream, we have moved a church and a cemetery, and this for starters.
“And we began it with a vision and an idea and a faith in ourselves and Almighty God. And now we are at the stage where we are finishing it,” Gonsalves said.
He repeated that the equipment at the airport will be used to carry out the largest road repair programme in the country.
“I’m not giving you gimmick you know. I am giving something connected to the people.”
Gonsalves, however, declined to call the names of the airlines that he said have agreed to service the airport.
“But I am telling you, and I will call them when I am ready. We have two international airlines out of the United States ready to come to Argyle. We have one out of Canada ready to come and we have also out of Europe, including the United Kingdom,” he said.