An American Airlines A319 aircraft, the type that will service AIA. (Internet photo)

By C. ben-David

To have direct service out of Miami is a game changer for the country. This service will make it so much easier for visitors including the diaspora to vacation in St Vincent and the Grenadines…. Miami being one of the main hubs for connections in the USA will be an excellent gateway for visitors from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and even the United Kingdom to access the beauty that is St Vincent and the Grenadines.” (Glen Beache, CEO, St. Vincent and the Grenadines [SVG] Tourism Authority)

***

It’s getting hard to keep up with all the “game changers” in little SVG.

First, there was the construction of Argyle International Airport; then there was the announcement that Air Canada would be flying to the new airport; next, we heard that a geothermal project — in a country where free solar power is the most economical way to go — would be an energy game changer; after that, it was medical marijuana; next came fruit drying; now a weekly American Airlines nonstop flight on a tiny plane is yet another game changer.

All these game changers are making my head spin!

Still, this latest game changer really takes the cake when it comes to prevarication and deception. This is because it is an unapologetic repudiation of the rational for constructing the so-called game-changing AIA.

Recall that the primary goal of AIA, as enunciated by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves in an “historic” speech in 2005, was that:

“… the full realisation of the potential of our country’s growth and development hinge on an international airport…. The requisites of economic diversification and regional and international competitiveness demand an international airport. Our country’s tourism potential would not be fully realised unless we build an international airport. And tourism is likely to be our main foreign exchange earner for a long time to come…”.

In the same speech, Dr. Gonsalves also argued that, “… air access difficulties constitute a practical brake on the movement of our nationals who reside in North America and Europe in returning to their homeland as frequently as many of them would like.”

He also referred to, “… the integration of the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines with those of the OECS, CARICOM, the wider Caribbean, Latin America, North America and Europe [which] is limited to the extent that there are huge restraints in air access. Foreign investors often shy away from St. Vincent and the Grenadines when the limitations of air access arise due to the absence of an international airport.”

No evidence was given to prove that overseas nationals were constrained from visiting our homeland because they had to transfer through Barbados or Trinidad — often after first transiting through other hubs if they lived far from London, New York City, or Toronto — or to explain why scores of foreign investors were more than eager to invest in SVG’s sugar industry two centuries before the invention of the airplane, or to justify the zeal of many investors to build light-assembly factories on the mainland during the 1960s and 1970s.

Like all the other undocumented assertions justifying the construction of AIA in the same address, no evidence was presented that our people in the diaspora were prevented (the meaning of the term “a practical brake”) from “returning to their homeland as frequently as many of them would like” because they would have to briefly and conveniently transit through comfortable and spacious airports in Barbados and Trinidad, especially when so many of them had to overnight in London, New York, or Toronto, a far greater “practical brake” that still exists even with the completion of AIA.

Incredulously, this “practical brake” is now seen as virtue of the new service from Miami scheduled to begin on Dece. 22, 2018.

The first question to ask about this announcement is why American Airlines isn’t flying out of the huge market of New York City instead? My answer is that the airline’s market research, which included a study of our paucity of mainland attractions, showed that the New York and surrounding area was already saturated by a weekly Caribbean Airlines flight carrying 154 passengers.

The more important question to answer is why is this new American Airlines service, extolling connecting gateway flights from as far away as London, a game changer when Prime Minister Gonsalves has been preaching since 2005 that AIA would offer nonstop flights from around the world to address the inconvenience of having to stop-over, even night-over, on the way to St. Vincent from distant places, something that he has claimed was retarding our tourism development?

We had an excellent gateway for decades. It is called Barbados, which has a much larger, more elegant, and far better featured Grantley Adams International Airport than the pint-sized, budget-level airport at Argyle.

In a flash, what was long seen as a humiliating and inconvenient in-transit nuisance holding back our tourism development has been transformed into an “excellent gateway” delight for overnighting in or transferring through on the way to Argyle. How is this any different from transferring through Barbados or Trinidad to what was a perfectly suitable airport at Arnos Vale, a facility that exactly met our limited mainland tourism potential?

I say that you can’t have it both ways: either transferring from one city to another is an inconvenient hardship dissuading people from visiting St. Vincent or it is a convenient and “excellent gateway” to St. Vincent from places like London, England, 4,416 miles from Miami.

Still, this equivocation does not fatally negate that the primary goal of AIA has always been to attract foreign tourists, the same function allegedly played by international airports across the Caribbean even when this stated purpose is confronted by the contrary reality that world-renowned tourist islands throughout the region and many more across the world are serviced only by regional commuter planes or ferry boats.

So, how many new tourists will actually avail themselves of this new service? Unfortunately, not many.

First, the total number of passengers, if all seats are sold on the 128-seat planes, would total 6,656 per annum.

Since half the flights would be outside the normal tourist high season (November-April) when seat occupancy rates could reach 90 percent (based on the figures for Air Canada’s 2017-18 flights from Toronto during an even shorter high season) and since very few Vincentians, the cohort that made up at least 80 per cent of nonstop international passengers since AIA began operating on Feb. 14, 2017, live in the areas the new American Airlines service is meant to attract, I generously predict that no more than 60 per cent of seats would be sold on an annual basis.

This would add no more than 4,000 visitors a year. Even if an astonishing 50 per cent of these people are genuine tourists headed to a resort or hotel on the mainland (as opposed to the Grenadines where most of the foreign visitors on this year’s Air Canada flights headed by ferry boat or commuter plane), this would add only 2,000 people to our hospitality industry.

If half of these genuine tourists would not have travelled to St. Vincent in the absence of this direct service from Miami, this reduces the number to 1,000 game-changing holiday passengers. This translates into less than three people a day.

“Game changer” my foot.

***

This is the 72nd in a series of essays on the AIA folly. My other AIA essays are here.

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.

27 COMMENTS

  1. 09-MAY-2018
    SUNWING AIRLINES (WG) 262 Comfort (Y)
    Depart TORONTO 07:00 Departure Terminal: 3
    Baggage: 1 PC
    Arrive ST. VINCENT 12:15 Weight Allowance: 50 LBS
    Not Valid Before: 09-MAY
    Not Valid After: 09-MAY
    Arrival Terminal: Main
    \th
    Unauthorized addendum to this 72nd essay as follows:
    On this flight 78 or 189 seats were filled. Perhaps this is not typical of the experience? Vincy Mas traffic in June and July is sure to be better most likely. Meantime, SVG will build the cost of unused capacity into its AIA start up maintenance budget, no?

    • Are these figures for your own flight? I tried to find numbers like this for Sunwing but was unsuccessful. Please pass on any info you may have.

  2. The booking and pricing of this new AA service came in after I submitted this essays.

    A per passenger return AA flight from Miami to Argyle, December 15-29, costs $US 780.00 (or $EC 2,083).

    A per passenger return flight from Miami to Barbados, December 14-28, costs $US 516.00 (or $EC 1,378).

    Glen Beache needs to explain why our flights are 50 percent higher, an outrageous difference for nonstop service of the same distance to almost the same location.

    Is is because it is expected that these flights will be so undersubscribed that a much higher fare — a “convenience tax” as it were — will have to be imposed to make up for all the empty seats?

  3. C ben, people got to watch you good, to make sure you don’t physically try to sabotage AIA. Besides being pissed off about AIA itself, you even actively promote Grantley Adams and Piarco, while dissing our own product. I imagine that you might be fed up with the incompetence in SVG but, this is a good step and, in the right direction. It is also a source of National pride for the people. I dare to wager that next year this time AIA will be handling twice as many passengers as now and further down will handle tens of thousands per year. But if you’ve been judging by the way the twenty-plus-year-old main market built by Taiwan is already dilapidated and in need of upkeep then I understand. It is not the people’s fault.

  4. Barbados or Trinidad as an alternative to Miami? I’ll give you a one word answer why neither are any good. Liat. That’s the word. Perhaps the most ineffective and expensive airline out there. Avoid using them like you’d avoid the plague if at all possible
    And, sorry, Grantley Adams may be bigger but its nothing like as well designed as Argyle. When you arrive at Argyle in a rainstorm you’ll use the air bridge and stay dry. Or get wet in Barbados if that’s your choice.
    Whilst previous articles by the writer have some merit, to keep railing on as he does now that Argyle is a reality is pointless.

  5. Seems we have to periodically be fed “game changer” deception so that we stay afraid of questioning the truth.

  6. C.Ben, it took me all these years non the less I’m here, and from now on I’ll be speaking on your behalf. To begin with, you’re delusional, boring, essay not enticing, same old shit, AIA/SVG bashing. I strongly suggest you take your problem to the one Above, the King of all Kings!

    • Are you so dunce that you don’t realize that the more you insult me, the more you energize me to keep on writing?

    • Observer: By King of all Kings you have a different opinion than the rest of us. We see Jesus that way and you see Ralph that way. Stop trying to get us all to worship Ralph, your king.

  7. I would take a direct flight to St Vincent, traveling Air Canada, but the flights are so expensive. If I travel to Barbados, one flight daily, I can pay half as much, but Liat doesn’t really connect with international flights. I often wait five hours for a really expensive flight to SVG. It’s a one hour flight almost as expensive as the five hour flight to Barbados. Few tourists would pay that. I have because I like the fact that no tourists go to SVG. They do like Bequia though, a lot. And there isn’t much of tourist highlights there, sights to see, or anything like that. I used to spend a week on Bequia, which was about twice as expensive as SVG for me, fly direct from Barbados, no customs. I put a ribbon on my luggage and the company grabbed it as it came off the Air Canada flight, put it on their plane total time waiting, less than a half hour. They were more expensive than LIAT. The Bequia airport doesn’t have any landing lights. I knew we would always be there before sunset. I would rather take a direct flight to SVG, but why is it so much more expensive than a flight to Barbados?

    • 1. It is false to say that the non-stop flights to Argyle from Toronto are expensive, unless you wait until the last minute and have to buy an executive-class ticket. A return fare, December 20, 2018-January 3, 2019 is around $EC 1,700 or about $EC 200 cheaper than a flight to and from Barbados from Toronto.

      2. LIAT doesn’t connect with international flights because of its own policy of not doing so, supported by the government of SVG which owns LIAT.

      SVGAir and Mustique Airways have alliances with the international airlines (which they have to pay for and pass on to their customers) which allows a seamless connection through Barbados without having to go through customs and immigration and reclaim your baggage. That’s why these flights are much more expensive than LIAT, but far more convenient.

      We used to have these kinds of connections with LIAT and the international airlines but they were terminated during an earlier Labour Party government.

  8. Someone had called in on Hot 97 Morning Mayhem promoting C.Ben shabby work, deep down I had a gut feeling the voice on the line were no other than C. Ben. Desperation kicks in pushing his boring agenda forward. Thought you had the city lock, having produced numerous essays critiquing AIA/SVG no one expecting you to be begging the public for their support. Seems like you’ve “crashed” land. The man wants to be relevant, but no one is paying this loser any mind, that’s why he’s ranting behaving like an idiot. Whether you’ve reached 150, the price of the egg remains the same.

  9. @ observer…..
    I was the one who called the radio show about C-Ben David and the brilliant articles he has written, and I can assure you I’m not him. I’ve read every rebuttal you people have come up with and can honestly say no one has challenged him and his writings. Now on that same AM Mayhem show, both hosts wholeheartedly agreed with CBen and the essays he’s written, and I’m sure you heard them…. are you going to suggest that both of them are also c-Ben as well???? News flash, while some may not have the time Ben does to write these essays with the facts he digs up, there are other people who share his feelings about AIA.
    Nuff said

    • Observer will now claim that you are me or that I am you or that the moon is made out of cheese or whatever.

      He and other low-life, semi-literate invalids like him are beneath your notice.

      What he and those like him fail to comprehend is that when they attack and threaten me personally but fail to challenge the credibility of my ideas or the accuracy of my facts, they simply strengthen the legitimancy of what I have written.

      This is why I have repeatedly claimed that some of my critics, including Observer, may actually be NDP moles impersonating ULP fanatics in order to make the party look small.

      Actually, there is only one C. ben-David in the world writing about AIA and that is me, though a search on the Internet will quickly find people with the same name, which those who know who I am could swear in a court of law is an identity that I have not stolen from others, as Peter Binose and his pseudonyms too numerous to name have repeatedly and falsely claimed.

      Many thanks for your support, even if you are C. ben-David (LOL).

  10. I just booked flight from RDU to SVD , and price was $100 US cheaper than RDU to BGI ., and I don’t have to pay Liat another $200 to SVD,and no 3 hr wait in Barbados, so I am happy. Saved $300, and get to St Vincent @ 3:50 pm rather than 6:50 pm. Kudos, not sure why people are bashing, all good in my opinion.

    • There is no contradiction in saying that nonstop international flights to Argyle are a cheaper and more convenient way to travel to and from SVG for many individuals like you but that the airport represents a negative value added contribution to the economy as a whole because servicing its debts, operating costs, and other expenses will always be greater than its spin off economic contributions such as enhancing the profits of the tourism industry.

      Micro benefits and macro losses are not the same thing which is why your personal gain is a negative for the country as a whole.

      That is why I am “bashing” the airport.

      The fact that the same money spent on the airport could have been better spent on other things to build up our country is also why all us not good with this white elephant at Argyle.

    • All the flights from RDU to SVD I found involve very long stops or overnighting at JFK in New York or Pearson airport in Toronto. Why not tell us about that?

      All the noise about the inconvenience of reaching SVG nonstop have focused on Barbados and LIAT even though most of the inconvenience and extra expense for the many travelers living far from New York or Toronto is overnighting at expensive hotels near the airports, a hardship that the opening of AIA will never remove if only because it is a hardship also affecting people flying nonstop to Barbados or other Caribbean destinations from North America.

      Reducing “inconvenience” was the poorest excuse or rationale for building this underused airport.

      If you don’t want inconvenience, stay home or, better still, don’t even get out of bed in the morning.

  11. Walker I do share your pain it really hurts having wept for the dead called C. Ben David, with his boring hogwash no taste essay, the man is a Lemming. Only if Dr Gonsalves or other government Ministers on that program then I’ll listen, other than that, no way. Those morning clowns are too negative. Who knows, they might have to answer in the Court Of Law if the man decides to press charge against them for saying things they can’t prove. Referring to the man from Barrouallie who’ve recently lost his wife due to natural cause, suddenly became a juicy topic, alleging that the man had killed his wife only to find out they are wrong. Each morning is some negative topic critiquing when they themselves can’t even do better. Can’t stand those folks, I digest positive. They aren’t far from toxic Ben. Walker, Ben can now rest comfortable knowing you on his side. Even with Walker;s support, he’s still in the 1% catocary. Down with Ben, long live AIA. Forward march, ah progress me say.

  12. RDU SVD
    7:15 AM 3:50 PM
    7h 35m
    1 stop Opens 1 stop pop-up for RDU to SVD, departing at 7:15 AM
    AA 1088 738-Boeing 737 Wifi on-board
    AA 1427 319-Airbus A319 Wifi on-board
    Details, for RDU to SVD, departing at 7:15 AM 1 stop Seats , for RDU to SVD, departing at 7:15 AM 1 stop
    Main Cabin
    Round trip
    $ 899

    RDU BGI
    7:05 AM 3:30 PM
    7h 25m
    1 stop Opens 1 stop pop-up for RDU to BGI, departing at 7:05 AM
    AA 683 321-Airbus A321 Wifi on-board
    AA 612 320-Airbus A320 Wifi on-board
    Details, for RDU to BGI, departing at 7:05 AM 1 stop Seats , for RDU to BGI, departing at 7:05 AM 1 stop
    Main Cabin
    Round trip
    $ 1,322

    Price Summary
    Web Saver (BGI – SVD)
    1 Adult
    $30.00 USD
    Taxes/Fees [details] $60.70 USD
    Web Saver (SVD – BGI)
    1 Adult
    $30.00 USD
    Taxes/Fees [details] $71.50 USD
    Total Package Price $192.20 USD

    Not sure what site C used for flight info, but this was copied directly from AA and Liat websites.So at least in my instance, it is a lower cost option for me. 1 stop in MIA, No 3 hr wait @ BGI for liat LI737 6:40 pm flight to SVD, no rechecking baggage @ BGI and a $600 savings. Where in the world did that info about going through JFK or Pearson in Toronto and long layovers come from? Anyway, I’m happy I saved money and time and have more to spend in SVG. Hopefully others can benefit from better fares.

    • Sorry for any misunderstanding, but I quickly looked at flights this spring, summer, and fall — i.e., before the first weekly American Airlines flight on December 22 — because I assumed you weren’t travelling so late in the year because most flyers don’t book that far ahead.

      Nevertheless, this stopover flight from Raleigh, North Carolina’s RDU airport to SVD is once every Saturday which might be inconvenient for many flyers. So, if you couldn’t fly on a Saturday because of other commitments, my remarks still hold.

      This means that the overall thrust of my comments are still relevant: what is the difference, especially if you have to change airlines, between a stopover in Miami for someone living in Raleigh and a stopover in Barbados for someone living in New York?

      From my perspective, a stopover is still a stopover.

  13. Ben why everytime someone say they are satisfied with the AIA services you always have to rebut their responses… We heard and know your position loud and clear over and over..
    Let the ppl have their say and joy. Many ppl are not speaking from a political perspective or partial to no gov. Most just want the convenience and joy of visiting our and their beautiful SVG .
    Everything don’t have to be about politics, numbers and comparisons because at the end of the day we all gona past away and leave everything we own. Enjoy life for what it worth while we have strength. Capitalism system is meant to borrow more than you can pay in order for the elite conglomerates and financial controllers such as world Bank, IMF and federal reserves can sustain their hold on the world.
    The trick is just knowing how to manage your depts and maintaining economic control.

  14. I clearly and unapologetically acknowledge that nonstop flights to St. Vincent meet the individual needs and wants of many Vincentians and foreigners. And, yes, I have visited the mainland nonstop from North America and personally enjoyed the convenience along with the money and time saved.

    My experience and those of others is totally irrelvant to my main theme which is only about politics insofar as politicians financially underwrite mega-projects like football stadiums, basketball arenas, Olympic Games, and, yes, new airports and other infra-structure projects to maintain their grip on power.

    My central hypothesis have always been that SVG didn’t need and couldn’t afford a new international airport because it would not attract sufficient tourism and other traffic to make it worthwhile, especially compared to other projects that had to be sacrificed to build, fund, and maintain a grossly underused facility.

    So, far my hypothesis has been validated by the airport and airline experience since February 14, 2017.

    As for your comments about the function and operation of capitalism and its relation to the two United Nations lending and economic stabilization agencies, they are ignorant in the extreme.

    So is you belief that we should just, “Enjoy life for what it [is] worth,” a view which means we should selfishly indebt our children and grandchildren so we can have a nice time for ourselves.

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