Visitors to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines can only be struck by the new airport terminal in the country’s capital. As one of the world’s most recently-constructed airports, it is a shiny 21st-century monument to the direction that this small Caribbean nation is headed and the steps that it is taking to get there.
We recently spoke with its CEO, Mr. Hadley Bourne about the airport and its origins. We asked Mr. Bourne about the challenge of moving the airport from its old location in Argyle city centre to its current out-of-town location, what kinds of sustainability measures are in place and what the airport means for the country and its citizens.
A new airport is born
Argyle International Airport – in its current guise – was born in February 2017 on Valentines Day, replacing the old terminal in the city centre. As Mr. Bourne tells us: “The current government had envisioned having a wider network of routes. The previous airport was international but it was quite small. If people wanted to commute internationally, they would have to go to Barbados or one of the neighboring islands to connect to the larger islands.”
As he explains, there were several motives behind the development not least economic ones: the ability to increase tourism and trade in particular: “The economy was greatly driven on agriculture; from fish and also tropical fruits, so this was an opportunity to diversify into other markets. With fresh fruit being perishable, having air travel also gave them the opportunity to get it to new markets fresher and faster.”
The new airport already has attracted international carriers like Air Canada, Caribbean Airlines and LIAT Airlines, with more in the pipeline. “One of the keys to our success, especially in the first year, was garnering the support of those major carriers and to schedule regular flights from November last year. As of yesterday, we have a flight direct to JFK scheduled every Wednesday. So, for an airport of this nature, to achieve those legacy carriers is a real boost for the operations.”
Developing an aviation ecosystem in Argyle
Mr. Bourne explains that the new airport terminals can deal with 1,000 people an hour – a significant jump on the previous terminal and that this also creates new logistical challenges, all of which have been catered for locally: “Everything is internal – our handling, our control, the works. It’s all integrated into our system. I think it would be a good thesis for any student to look at the economic development that will come from the airport when it’s open.”
Employment was created everywhere in the airport’s local supply chain. He says: “Even if you bring the economics closer to home, a lot of the hangars require maintenance. The aircraft that come in require cleaning and servicing. So the socioeconomic rise can be seen on the aviation side as well as the non-aviation side.”
“When we started recruitment, a lot of the operations were built around myself and my colleague in ground and cargo handling. We then took on a lot of people with little or no experience in the aviation sector and trained them from the ground up. Currently, we have around 280 give or take and around 95% of our staff had never worked in an airport before. That journey was interesting on its own – just to train these people into the industry. They don’t only have to operate but to operate at the level required for international operators.”
In terms of sustainability, the Argyle International Airport has already taken its first steps towards being fully energy neutral. Mr. Bourne says: “We’re building a 500kw photovoltaic farm – a solar farm – just outside the airport. The first phase of around 300kw is expected to be up and running in July, assuming the rainy season helps us! The energy from that is going to sustain and combat our high dependence on the regular fossil fuel generated energy.”
He continues: “At the moment, the 500kw would be around 33% of our energy but my intention is to have the farm developed to the point where we are totally self-sufficient energy-wise and this is just phase one of that development. And we’re making small changes – in LEDs and so on – which mean that, as time progresses, our energy requirements may be less than they are now.”
“I have a passion for alternative energy that goes way back. Even though I studied aviation at Cardiff University, I also read into solar energy and it’s something I feel strongly about. I’ll be pushing that at the airport so that we can increase sustainability. That’s one of the mandates that we’re really moving towards.”
Partners and Suppliers
As always, partners and suppliers have been critical. Mr. Bourne says: “In the year prior to opening, the input of stakeholders was crucial. We had to build it to a certain level and make sure operations were running to a certain level. Their input was also critical to see that certain things were feasible. It was a new facility and although a lot of procedures were in place from the old airport, little tweaks were required because we had a whole new technological infrastructure.”
“We had to trash out a clean transition. What was critical in the whole scheme of things was that the airports could not continue simultaneously. One closed at midnight and the other opened the next morning, so it was a real challenge to make sure that transitioning was in place.” Fortunately, all of AIA’s partners and suppliers understood the service imperative and got on board with the delivery.
These companies remain arm-in-arm with AIA until now. They include Total Protection Security Service, who were crucial in bringing security at the airport terminals to international standards, as well as SITA-Air Transport Communication Services and Caribbean Aviation and Logistics, who ensured a seamless overnight transition to the new location.
Other partners included auxiliary – but nonetheless important – services like Patriot Cleaning Services, Ben’s Auto Rentals, Garden Care Plus, Avis and Ben’s Auto Rentals. All of whom ensure that when passengers arrive at Argyle International Airport, they’re receiving a fully integrated service offering.
One-year Report Card
With little more than a year under its belt, Argyle International Airport is already an important cog in the wheel in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Mr. Bourne says: “The airport has been a catalyst. We’ve seen a big growth in exports to the diaspora along the Eastern seaboard of the United States. There’s a lot of socioeconomic and micro-businesses that you see gradually developing and growing because of the airport.”
Above all, the airport is a statement for the country. It had been in the pipelines for a long time but now that it’s there, it has generated fast economic gains and even environmental dividends, when one considers all the traffic that it has taken out of Argyle city centre. Argyle International Airport opened its doors to the public on Valentine’s Day 2017 and already has a place in the hearts of the people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
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