The Guyanese businessman who plans to land two planes at Argyle International Airport when it opens on Feb. 14 says he did no market research to determine the extent to which his chartered flight services from New York and Cuba to Argyle would be patronised.
Gerald Gouveia, chief executive officer of Roraima Airways, which does international charters through other companies, said he followed his “entrepreneurial nose” to St. Vincent.
He told iWitness News on Saturday that his company is planning to land a Dynamic Airways flight from New York and an EasySky flight from Cuba at the airport.
Each aircraft would make a transit landing, as their final destination would be Guyana. Dynamic Airways is expected to land sometime between 7 and 8 a.m. and EasySky in the mid-afternoon.
Each aircraft will stay on the ground for about one hour before continuing to Guyana.
“I think you are probably looking at 100 coming from New York and I am not sure from Cuba as yet,” he told iWitness News when asked about the number of passengers that are expected to disembark at Argyle.
“But I know for sure a lot of your students are coming home — I believe. And we will see who else is coming. I understand a lot of the students have shown an interest in coming on the flight.”
Passengers will pay US$500 return for either of the flights and Gouveia said the students will be paying for themselves — “as far as I know”.
He said the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines — which is opening the airport six years behind schedule — is not paying for any of the seats on the flights.
“These seats are being paid for by individuals; persons would buy the seats. I understand there is a huge population of people from St. Vincent living in the New York area and these seats are going to be paid for by the passengers who are going to be booking to come on the flights. The government is giving me no incentive.”
Gouveia told iWitness News that his company is, however, negotiating, with the Ralph Gonsalves administration, the waiver of landing and other fees for the inaugural flight.
“But we haven’t even started discussing that as yet, but, more than likely, we will probably look at doing that,” he said during the interview, two weeks before the flights are expected to land at Argyle.
He told iWitness News that his company is not in the habit of seeking concessions from governments.
“We are a private sector airline. We don’t normally ask any concessions from government. We see St. Vincent as a new economic opportunity that is emerging in the Caribbean and we are exploring all the possibilities and we don’t need any concessions from the Government of St. Vincent. We’ve been operating in Guyana, we don’t ask the government of Guyana for any concessions and we really don’t have any intention of asking for concessions from the St. Vincent Government either.”
Gouveia told iWitness News that he has done no market research to inform his business decision to fly to Argyle.
“I have an entrepreneurial nose. What that means is that entrepreneurs look at emerging markets and you start the process.”
He repeated his view that St. Vincent has for a long time been locked in “because of your lack of access”, adding that the only way to come to St. Vincent is on LIAT “with one suitcase and very small suitcases and so on”.
He said this restricted the growth of the country.
The Guyanese businessman, whose first trip to St. Vincent was a three-day visit last week, spoke of the beauty of the country, adding, “And I don’t think that a lot of people who live there really appreciate how beautiful your island is.
“I have seen it and I have a sixth sense and I am saying, for me, as I look at it, you don’t have a lot of natural resources but what you have is a lot of natural beauty and I think the potential of doing things there, for example, a duty-free zone, similar to what they have in Panama — so there is a lot of opportunities. What restricted you before is access.”
Gouveia maintained that he was not regurgitating government talking points, saying that his response to anyone to suggest so would be to say, “… they are messing with my intelligence because I am not involved in politics.
“Neither am I involved in it in Guyana nor involved in it anywhere in the world,” added Gouveia, who described himself as a private sector leader in that CARICOM nation.
“I have a sense of private sector development and I don’t take political sides. I take sides that I believe are good for economic development, job creation.”
But during Gouveia’s trip to SVG, he recognised that there was some opposition to the airport.
“And when I came to St. Vincent, what happens, unfortunately, what it seems — that happens even here in Guyana sometimes — when we have thing happening economically, you may have people who are not in government that don’t like things happening economically. And when the private sector supports things happening economically, they would say that the private sector is siding with government.”
Gouveia said he was not aware, however, that the Vincentian private sector had adopted a wait and see approach to the airport.
He said such a stance is “unfortunate”.
“I get a sense and I find it strange that there seems to be a resistance to this airport,” Gouveia observed, generally.
He was told that some persons have their concerns about the airport.
“Maybe I haven’t spent enough time in St. Vincent to understand why would people be concerned with what I consider to be — there are some things in these countries that I consider to be transformational projects,” he said, mentioning among them Guyana’s Marriott Hotel.
“That airport that was built there is a transformational project,” he said, adding that Guyana’s hydro power plant will also be a transformational project.
“Those things catapult your country from one economic level to another quickly… If there are concerns, I wish that somebody would say to me that they know that something is wrong with this airport.”
iWitness News told Gouveia that it doesn’t know of anything being wrong with the airport.