By Kenton X. Chance
Kathy Peters, a High Court clerk, was so moved by watching the first commercial flight depart from Argyle International Airport on Tuesday that she could hardly express herself.
“I’m just overwhelmed. I’m just over,” she told iWitness News with tears in her eyes.
“I can’t believe what I am seeing here. I think you should interview my son. He is the one who has been looking forward to this,” she said after watching a LIAT aircraft take off with 28 passengers bound for Barbados.
Her son, Jevari Peters, a 9-year-old student at Kingstown Preparatory School said he felt “really good” after watching the LIAT flight, which took off a few minutes before a chartered Dynamic Airlines flight from New York landed at the airport before continuing to Guyana.
Tuesday morning was not the first time that LIAT was landing or taking off from the airport with passengers on board.
But, unlike the political rally in December 2015, Tuesday’s passengers had paid for their flight, which was within the airline’s regularly scheduled commercial offerings, marking the start of operations at the airport.
The Dynamic Airways flight was the first of several chartered flights scheduled to land at the EC$700 million airport, which was beginning operations six years behind schedule and at an almost 100 per cent cost overrun, including a further EC$400 million added to the national debt.
Ms. Peters, who lives in Belmont, said she had anticipated the opening of the airport for a long time.
The airport, which was mired in partisan politics since it was announced in 2005 and construction began in 2008, began operating about 12 hours after it was officially commissioned with a flag raising ceremony Monday afternoon.
A national holiday has been declared for Tuesday’s opening, which will include what is expected to be a huge rally just outside the airport site.
Thousands of persons chose various vantage points outside the perimeter fence to witness history first-hand Tuesday morning, while thousands more witnessed the event via the media.
“I feel very excited and I am happy and this is something that my daughter gets to tell her children about later in life,” said Tasheka Adams, who, along with her daughter, was on the historic LIAT flight.
She was travelling to Antigua and told iWitness News that she likes the Taiwan-financed terminal building, which was completed in December 2013, slightly ahead of schedule.
“I like it already. It feels nice,” Adams told iWitness News.
Adams said she had no reservations about being among the first passengers on the first commercial flight to depart from the airport.
“It’s the same like going to a new country for the first time and taking off from their international airport. So, it’s the same thing.”
Another passenger on the LIAT flight, Jolisa Baptiste of Arnos Vale, was travelling to Tortola.
It was her first trip overseas, and she was the first of the passengers to arrive for check-in.
Baptiste told iWitness News she was “excited” that she was among the first passengers to fly out of the airport and that it is wonderful that the country now has an international airport.
The passengers were leaving on the LIAT aircraft that was brought over from E.T. Joshua Airport as fight LI 900 Monday night, the last official flight from that airport.
LIAT spokesperson, Shavar Maloney, told iWitness news that the flight departed E.T. Joshua Airport around 10:30 p.m. with 11 passengers on board.
They included Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who was seeing the realisation of his dream to build the nation’s first international airport.
On that flight was also permanent secretary with responsibility for civil aviation, Godfred Pompey, officials from the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority and the International Civil Aviation Organization, as well as members of LIAT’s senior management.
“We did a fly over then a landing which was described by the prime minister himself as being very smooth,” Maloney told iWitness News near to the LIAT check-in area at Argyle International Airport.
“I was on the flight. I can attest to it. It was very easy as we came in. It was very smooth and it was an experience to land here at Argyle and I hope that everybody enjoys it.”
Maloney told iWitness News that the LIAT passengers were on time.
“I believe they are happy with the facility, first of all. The staff is very happy with the check-in facilities that we have, so it has been a good morning so far for LIAT,” he said, adding that the airline would operate its regular schedule of seven flights on Tuesday.
Back outside the airport fence awaiting the departure of the LIAT flight was credit union manager, Lennox Bowman.
“It’s a great feeling. Exciting,” he told iWitness News as the LIAT aircraft taxied down the runway.
He noted the number of persons who had come out to witness the event.
“It a historic moment that so many of us want to be a part of,” noting that it was also the first time that commercial international airlines would be landing in the country.
Bowman said he hoped that Vincentians would move beyond the politics that has surrounded the project and work towards its success.
He told iWitness News that people are now seeing the project for what it is and expressed hope that Vincentians would put aside politics –“justified or not” — and move towards making the airport work for the benefit of the country.
With the opening of the airport, some of the challenges associated with moving produce can be alleviated and the nation needs to work to make that happen, Bowman told iWitness News.
He also spoke of the potential impact of the tourism industry, including greater access to the Grenadines and developing the nation’s true tourism potential.
“And, generally, when you have this type of economic activity taking place, boosted by such an airport, your GDP is going to rise, employment should rise and there are a lot of positive spin offs,” Bowman told iWitness News.
He said that the area around the airport offers a lot of development potential, saying that a lot of people were waiting until the airport is commissioned and operating before investing.
“I think we are right at that stage now, so I think people will be looking to see what kind of development could take place in this area,” Bowman told iWitness News.
Also looking on at the arrival and departure of flights was Kelvin Dover, who had travelled from the interior agricultural district of Park Hill.
“I was looking forward to this for years and, as the theme says, it’s the realisation of a dream, and I am very, very proud,” he told iWitness News.
“It is a blessing. Really and truly, it is a blessing. I just hope that Vincentians feel proud about it and all of us work for unity,” He said.
Inga Dover, said that Tuesday was “just a proud moment for me to witness this today and I’m happy and I appreciate it very much.”