The world’s largest airline should have landed at Argyle International Airport in December 2015, if it were completed, Glen Beache, head of the tourism Authority, said on Wednesday.
It is the first time that this information is being disclosed, although Beache had, for years, faced numerous questions about which airlines would service the EC$729 million airport, which is expected to begin operating on Feb. 14 — six years behind schedule — with two chartered international flights as well as scheduled flights by regional carrier, LIAT.
Not even Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves had disclosed the American Airlines plan when on Dec. 6, 2015 — three days ahead of the general elections — when he told party supporters at a rally at the airport construction site that Caribbean Airlines (CAL) and LIAT would land at the airport.
The rally, which political observers say was intended to sway voters, took place 10 days before American Airlines was scheduled to land, according to the information Beache disclosed Wednesday on Boom FM.
A LIAT ATR-72 aircraft and some smaller aircraft landed at the incomplete airport as part of the rally.
According to Wikipedia, American Airlines is the world’s largest airline when measured by fleet size, revenue, and scheduled passenger-kilometres flown, and the second largest by number of destinations served.
Asked why is American Airlines not flying to St. Vincent as part of the Feb. 14 opening, Beache said, “Airlines don’t like to have planes on the ground. A plane on the ground is a plane that’s losing money. All of these airlines plan a year in advance, except for BA (British American). BA actually plans two year.”
He said the Tourism Authority is “hoping” for American Airlines to begin servicing St. Vincent from Miami before June.
Beache said he is hoping that American Airlines would arrive by May, with three flights a week.
A lot of this would hinge on the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which has authority over the security of the travelling public in the United States, being pleased with the security checks.
Beache said: “We’ve missed a few dates. We had WestJest and JetBlue ready to come in [in 2015]. We had already agreed for them to come in. As a matter of fact, if you look at the state of the industry conference that was held in Aruba last year, where JetBlue president spoke, he made it clear that the only place in the Caribbean that they plan to expand into is St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Asked why they are not coming now if they had planned to do so last year, Beache said, “Once you miss that date, they don’t want to have their plane on the ground. They want to come but they can’t put a plane aside and say ‘Whenever you are ready.’ That’s not the way it works.”
He said JetBlue and CAL are very interested in flying from JFK, New York to Argyle and CAL is interested in flying from Pearson airport in Toronto to St. Vincent.
JetBlue is telling him about November this year, Beache said.
“I made it clear to them that I need them by June the latest, but that goes back to plane availability and that’s a problem. And that’s why it’s necessary to make sure you have these negotiations and you have your days down pat,” Beache said, repeating that airlines don’t like to have aircraft on the ground.
JetBlue is an American low-cost airline that is the 6th-largest airline in the United States and CAL is owned by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
“WestJet, obviously is interested in it. Both WestJet and JetBlue, we are speaking about October, November this year,” Beache said.
WestJet Airlines Ltd. is a Canadian airline that began as a low-cost alternative to the country’s competing major airlines.
Argyle International Airport will open officially on Feb. 14 with flights by regional carrier, LIAT, and the high point being the landing of two international chartered flights, one from Canada and the other from New York.