Prime Minster Ralph Gonsalves says that he has never promised that the Argyle International Airport would be profitable soon after construction.
He made the assertion this week as he defended himself against critics who have pointed out that the EC$729 million the airport will begin operations on Feb. 14 with only LIAT and Amerijet making regular scheduled flight.
A number of charter flights are also expected to land at the airport on that day.
Speaking in Mt Wynne on Thursday, Gonsalves said that when he announced that the government will open the airport on Feb. 14, he said that in addition to LIAT and Amerijet, the government will seek to have charters.
“Because the airlines which do regular services need to have the airport and all the requisite details in the information system: there and in the international civil aviation system for a particular period of time,” he said at the ground breaking ceremony for Black Sands Resorts and Villas.
“We will be testing the systems and, hopefully, we will get within the early period, and I know Glen Beache is working on that,” but did not complete the thought, but said, “And, as you heard, Captain Gouveia with Roraima.”
Gerald Gouveia, chief executive officer of Guyana-based Roraima Airways, said that he is looking to transit in St. Vincent, his charter flights from New York to Guyana, operated by Dynamic Airways.
He also announced that his company is looking at giving Gonsalves a Valentine’s gift of Cuban shoppers flown in on a charter on the day that the airport opens.
“All I am asking people to do, just simmer down nuh! Just simmer down!” Gonsalves said, adding that his loudest critics opposed the airport from the beginning.
“Those who are politically jaundiced are getting desperate and I man just sitting down and enjoying their desperation,” he said and invited persons to attend the Feb. 14 opening of the airport, which is happening six years later than scheduled.
“I want to see you there in your numbers, because we begin a process which would lead us to more and more aircraft coming there on charter, and as we make all the arrangements now that the airport is open, and the necessary and desirable information, civil aviation networks be put in place for us to make argyle international work.”
The prime minister said that when he says this, people accuse him of having said that the airport would be a “money spinner” from day one and asking why is he is now speaking in those terms.
In his defence, Gonsalves returned to the August 2005 speech in which he announced the construction of the airport.
But he read from his 2005 speech in which he announced the construction of the airport:
In that speech, Gonsalves said he appreciates “the genuine concern about the huge cost of constructing and operating an international airport.
“I realise that the international airport in the short-to-medium term will not be able to generate enough revenues to pay for the costs of its construction. However, in the long-run it will be economically viable. In any event, without it we are likely to be severely hampered in our thrust for further economic development,” he said.
“I didn’t hide it you know,” Gonsalves told the gathering in Peter’s Hope.
He further noted that in the speech he said that the airport must be financed in a way that allows Vincentians to live during its construction “and in the years when the income stream generated from the airport is not yet enough to offset the cost of financing it”.
Gonsalves commented: “In other words, when I came to the people, I spoke to the people. I said these are the challenges which we have but we must go.
“We have accomplished it; we must now make it work.
Gonsalves said that in the 2005 speech, the only thing he got “slightly off” was the time frame in which the airport would be completed.
But that is not true. Gonsalves also said then that the airport would cost EC$480.6 million. But the final price tag announced by the government is EC$729 million.
“Look, I’m asking everyone. If you had been opposed to the airport, it is now there. Stop your foolishness and let us all make it work! Stop your foolishness and let us all make it work!
“And we have been patient with the construction, let us be patient in getting it work,” he said.