Prime Minister Gonsalves kisses ground at Argyle after disembarking the first aircraft to land at the unfinished airport in November 2015. (Photo: Sydney K. Morgan/Facebook)

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

“We have airlines who [sic] have already indicated their interest and none wants us to mention their names, because, obviously, they don’t want their competitors to know until quite late what they are engaged in,” Dr. Gonsalves said at an Argyle International Airport (AIA) symposium on November 8, 2011.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave,

When first we practise to deceive!”

(Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, 1808)

***

AIA has already missed five completion deadlines: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. It is well on its way to missing its 2016 deadline but will certainly be ready to operate just in time for the next election in 2019 as Camillo Gonsalves becomes our first President following a successful constitutional referendum six months earlier, effortlessly facilitated by the splintering of the New Democratic Party into three warring factions in late 2016.

Though my assertion about Vincie politics 2019-style is frivolous conjecture, the missed airport deadlines are in serious lockstep with the on-again, off-again reference to and negotiations with the international airlines said to be “interested” in making AIA their next Caribbean tourist destination.

The latest talk about airlines appeared in a news item in the Friday, January 22, 2016 Searchlight newspaper which reported that the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority (SVGTA) has been having discussions with eight international airlines concerning routes to SVG on completion of AIA. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, January 19, the beleaguered chief executive officer of the SVGTA, Glen Beache, listed the airlines as West Jet, Jet Blue, Air Canada, Delta, American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and Air Berlin.

I have already argued why six of the named airlines are unlikely to ever service AIA .

Of the other two, Air Berlin, a carrier mentioned some time ago, flies only once or twice weekly to three high-profile Caribbean destinations: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Curacao. It transports passengers only once of week from London to the popular Varadero resort area in Cuba even during the peak month of February. Since there are no flights from Toronto or New York to anywhere in the Caribbean, there is little hope that Air Berlin would ever come to our mainland.

As for Virgin Atlantic, it sends non-stop jets to Barbados from London every day during the winter season but has only one non-stop flight to Jamaica and none to Grenada during the same period, ruling out any reasonable expectation of flying to tourism-deficit St. Vincent Island.

Curiously missing from Glen Beache’s list is Caribbean Airlines (CAL), a carrier that as recently as last month was mentioned by Prime Minister Gonsalves as committed to servicing AIA. As well, Dr. Gonsalves told thousands of party supporters at a December 6 election rally held on the unfinished runway at AIA,“… that airlines from North America, Europe and Latin America will fly to Argyle. He, however, declined to name any of them besides CAL”, backtracking on his earlier eagerness to name the airlines interested in servicing AIA .

The issue of naming, dropping, renaming, and refusing to name (see opening quote as well) airlines has been going on since at least the beginning of airport earthworks in August 2008. Mr. Beache only adds to the growing sentiment that AIA has been a pie-in-the-sky misadventure orchestrated by rank amateurs, if not charlatans weaving a tangled web of deceit, by stating that:

“It’s (AIA) very close to opening. And I know one of the big questions is simply which airlines will be flying into St Vincent and the Grenadines…. We are not going to know exactly which airlines are flying into St Vincent and the Grenadines until the airport is completed, and until a CEO has been put in position at AIA…. The airlines will have to speak to whoever the CEO is, because all sorts of things are coming into these discussions — in terms of landing fees, turn rate, depending on how many times they’re coming per week… a lot of things.”

So, rather than being “quite late” in the negotiations on the eve of the airport’s supposed completion by April 2016 — a place the opening 2011 quote from Dr. Gonsalves implies we should now reached — we are still at the starting line eagerly awaiting the revelation of AIA’s CEO.

If a CEO must be in place for serious negotiations to commence, what has been the point of all the years of previous “negotiations” — if this is what they actually were rather than one informal and pointless meet-and-greet after the other — with these and other airlines? After all, the Prime Minister was hell bent on building the airport whatever the obstacles, real or imagined, based on a politically useful fairytale premise that, “If you build it, they will come”.

If an airport CEO is so necessary to facilitate airline bargaining, what do we make of the Prime Minister’s remarks two years ago that, “… it is expected that some of the international airlines will enter into service agreements in 2014 with the Government to operate out of the Argyle International Airport”, a statement made long before any search for an airport Chief Executive Officer.

And if a CEO were actually needed, what do we make of a similar comment in the Prime Minister’s January 2015 Budget Address that several (unnamed) airlines have expressed such a strong interest in adding SVG to their routes that, “Air service agreements are expected in the first half of 2015 with several of them” (http://www.iwnsvg.com/2015/02/02/eustace-questions-projected-tourism-boom-without-airlines-committing-to-fly-to-argyle/)?

Such conflicting and repeatedly unmet airport and airline expectations and requirements fly in the face of Mr. Beache’s January 19, 2116 press conference remarks that: “Contrary to what some people believe, that you just go out and ask and they will come [my italics], that is not the situation. There are a lot of things that have to be discussed… nobody owes St Vincent and the Grenadines anything. If the airlines are not making money, they are not going to fly – it’s as simple as that.”

This does not sit well with the most important assertion in Dr. Gonsalves “historic” 2005 airport speech that, “If you want to have a dramatic lifting of tourism and investments in hotels and allied businesses, you need to have access.” Translation: “If you build it, they will come.”

The conversion of Mr. Beache from someone who likewise viewed airport supply as driving airport demand — versus the evidence-based normal reverse causal sequence — to someone who now understands that the travel industry is full of complications occurred only recently. For years Mr. Beache, like the Prime Minister, was among those who naively (or conveniently) believed that, “you will just go out and ask and they will come” when he admitted at a December 2, 2014 press conference that, “This has been an eye opener for me. I mean marketing is my forte, but the airline industry has so many intricacies”.

The most obvious “intricacy” that Mr. Beache seems to have just discovered is the self-evident assertion that, “No airline is coming here unless they can make money. No one is coming here because they have a love for SVG.”

“Love for SVG,” of course, was how the Prime Minister hoodwinked the Vincentian people at home and abroad — not the 1.4 million annual visitors, mainly tourists, the airport is designed to handle — in 2005 into supporting the airport project in the first place!

Another “intricacy” Mr. Beache noted at the same press conference is that: “… one of the biggest weaknesses is the fact that SVG has no history of direct international travel; therefore, there is no way of knowing what sort of traffic will come into the country, once the airport is open.”

On the contrary, most observers would see our 55-year experience with E. T. Joshua Airport and our late entry into direct international travel as among our biggest strengths since this allows us to learn not only from our own long airport experience but from those of our neighbours what it takes to attract and satisfy thousands of potential overseas visitors. But this learning exercise would have required a comprehensive economic feasibility study of the costs and benefits of AIA, an exercise the Honourable Prime Minister chose not to carry out because the results would not have pleased him.

From my perspective, all of this explains the two opening quotes and why poor Mr. Beache is chronically caught flat footed or out of step with the Prime Minister on one tourism issue after another.

***

My other AIA pieces may be found at:

  1. Get ready for a November election!
  2. Lessons for Argyle Airport from Canada’s Montreal–Mirabel Int’l
  3. Lessons for Argyle Int’l Airport from the cruise industry
  4. Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle Int’l Airport
  5. Lessons from Trinidad & Tobago for Argyle Int’l Airport
  6. The Dark Side of Tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
  7. Why Argyle Won’t Fly: Lessons from Dominica
  8. Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
  9. Airport Envy Vincy-Style
  10. Fully realising our country’s tourism potential
  11. Airport without a cause
  12. The unnatural place for an international airport
  13. The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
  14. False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
  15. Airport politics and betrayal Vincy-Style
  16. Phony airport completion election promises, Vincy-style
  17. Is Argyle Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us?’
  18. Has the cat got your tongue, Prime Minister?
  19. More proof that Argyle won’t fly
  20. Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
  21. The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
  22. The world’s four most amazing abandoned airports
  23. Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport

C. ben-David

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.

7 replies on “Argyle Airport amateur hour”

  1. Jeannine James says:

    Just picture it. The major airlines don’t want him to mention their names. Let that soak in for a while.

    1. Jeannine that is another clerical error.

      What they actually mean is that they do not want their name associated with his.

      1. Jeannine James says:

        I guess the more often we lie about something, the greater the risk of telling the truth by accident.

  2. Yes, Jeannine, I mentioned this in an earlier piece so didn’t want to repeat myself but will here: all manner of commercial enterprises love the free publicity of having their companies mentioned by name in the media as often as possible, at least in a positive or neutral light.

    For this reason, I doubt that any of the listed airlines are bogus.

    What I do take issue with is the misuse of the terms “Airline X or hotel developer Y has shown interest” and “negotiations are taking place with airline X or hotel company Y” when all this really means is an exchange of letters or emails has occurred, an invitation to visit SVG has been accepted or is planned, an overseas meeting with the parties has taken place, etc.

    In short, when elected government officials or their underlings talk about “talks have taken place with X,” we should take this as being no more serious than the idle chats we all have when we meet friends we haven’t seen for a while on the gritty streets of Kingstown.

  3. Patrick Ferrari says:

    C. ben, my brain has packed it in for the day so I will look forward to this piece tomorrow when I rise – at 3 o’clock. I have a piece, too, in the works where I quoted the same spurious and specious jibe Gonsalves the elder used to fool his gullible crowd that you opened with.

    Even though I am not thinking good, I am thinking good enough to correct you on a mistake you should not be making. They did not miss five deadlines.

    They missed one in 2010. It was a serious deadline – they all were, and are. They came up with it in 2005 for the election campaign. At the time, they said it will be finished in 2010 (construction started in the latter half of 2008) with the cold Ju-C and hot roti crap.

    Then they missed three in 2011; early, middle and late.

    Three more in 2012 early middle and late. That’s seven.

    Three more again in 2013; early middle and late. Ten.

    By this time, I stopped counting and I will give them the benefit and say only two in 2014. Twelve.

    2015 was only two; middle and late. Fourteen.

    But Boy Beache is now saying it is very near to opening, and he will know. He is the CEO of the Tourism Authority. So I am taking him at his word and I am assuming they are going to make the March 2016 deadline.

    By the way my lad, I never got not one of them big mout confident airport finishing braggarts to take me up on my two publically advertised bets that the airport would not be finished, first by the end of 2014 ($10Gs) and again by 2015 ($15Gs) – last month. Not one man bet me. Cause them no.

  4. Patrick Ferrari says:

    C. ben, I’m up. That’s a double entendre.

    A school teacher asked his class, “What’s the difference between the ULP and the government?” Everyone looks vague. He points to Tommy and says, “Tommy?” Tommy says, “I don’t know, sir.” The teacher says, “That is the right answer.”

    Glen Beache is so out of his depth – as it is apparent, too, with the Prime Minister with the airlines coming thing (that is all I can call it, thing) – that it would laughable if wasn’t so damning.

    In Beache, the Prime Minister has sent a boy to do a man’s job. Beache’s all-encompassing qualification is that he is ULP dynasty, full stop, so deserves to be paid from the public coffers regardless of how bogus that qualification is in the real world.

    In ’89 I had knee surgery at UF (the University of Florida). The surgeon, Dr. Peter Indelicato, did knees and knees only. And only sports related injuries; don’t come from no car accident to him. That’s the calibre of person you need to send to talk to the airlines. Not a novice whose eyes have not opened yet in that field.

    Beache is a fool of few equal. In 2012, 2014 and 2016 he admitted the negotiations, which is his “forte,” that he was having with the airlines were opening his eyes. But what makes him so specially foolish is that he did not need to admit his stark weakness – because he was not negotiating at all. He was sent to collect bramble material to bramble fools with. He himself said that. He said the airlines do not want to talk to him on matters of serious concern, where decisions matter and are to be made. He said that they need to talk to the airport CEO for that. Not the Tourism Authority CEO. Who is more the fool? The fool or the fool who sends the fool?

    And we must send the real Mc Coy only when the airport is FINISHED!

    And by the way, the teacher is wrong. There is no difference.

    1. Patrick here is a really old one:

      “How do you know when a politician is lying?”

      “His lips are moving.”

      or

      “His mouth is open.”

      or

      “He is standing in front of a microphone.”

      or

      “He is making an election campaign promise.”

      or … Unfortunately, the correct answers are nearly endless.

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