Six years on Vincentians await completion of Argyle International Airport
Six years after the government announced plans to construct an international airport, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is getting ready to open the Argyle International Airport despite several missed completion dates.
The government is still in need of cash to finish the project, even though the Ralph Gonsalves government had secured the US$80 million that the International Airport Development Company (IADC) said last year it needed to complete the project.
The government says it is still awaiting the US$9.25 million from the sale of land to two developers in Canouan as well as the disbursement of the final EC$10 million of an EC$40 million loan from the Venezuela-based ALBA bank.
But, despite the setbacks, the government is confident that the EC$700 million (One EC dollar = US$0.37 cents) airport expected to become operation by mid 2015, will help boost the local economy, particularly the tourism and agricultural sectors.
“We have had a problem where we have markets in the United States of American but we do not have the means of getting the fish to the U.S. markets in a timely manner when the fish is still fresh,” said Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Saboto Caesar, noting that the new airport, being build on St. Vincent’s east coast, will help to solve that problem.
“We want the private sector to come on board with their part in tourism, with agriculture. I continue to mention that many of our farmers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will be benefitting significantly from the Argyle International Airport,” he said, as Cabinet ministers toured the facility last week.
Tourism, Sports, and Culture Minister, Cecil “Ces” McKie, said the international airport will open up new possibilities “for persons throughout the length and breadth of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, home and aboard.
“Possibilities in the sporting sector, in the tourism sector, in the agricultural sector, culture. The number of opportunities that are available, I want us to enhance our positioning to capitalize on these opportunities, not just within the facility itself but also in the surrounding communities,” McKie said.
At the same time, tourism officials, based on feedback from visitors, have been urging artisan to produce smaller craft items.
“But we have to encourage them to increase their production quality and quantity so that we can have these items available to the visitors when they come in,” McKie said, noting that he is certain the hospitality industry will also benefit from the new facility.
“I am sure that persons are already eyeing up or setting up whether bread and breakfast or medium to large scale hotel facilities,” he said, indicating that the Ralph Gonsalves government is urging persons who own land close to the airport “to make a move now.
“They need to set themselves up to take advantage of those opportunities that will present themselves.
“I think Vincentians have that opportunity to benefit from this facility and I think we need to ask them to examine, very closely those possibilities and act on them.”
But while McKie said he was “very impressed” with the progress on the new airport, he acknowledged that “a lot of persons have been debating when the facility will be completed”.
The airport has already missed several completion deadlines, with the latest set as December 2014. But the government said it is expected to be “substantially completed” by the end of this year, and operationally by mid-2015.
“I don’t think that is up for debate anymore, the most important thing is that we will be completing the international airport at Argyle and in short time we will have it opened for persons to fly out and to fly in,” he said.
But much work still remains to be done, including the paving of the runway, competition of the control tower and aircraft rescue and fire station, and the spanning of the Yambou River, which runs across the runway.
“We are working steadfastly to complete this international airport — well I say substantial completion of this airport project — by December this year,” said Rudolph Matthias, chief executive officer of the International Airport Development Company (IADC).
Bradley Francis, chief executive officer of Franco Construction, the firm constructing the terminal building, said work commenced in January and his firm has sought an extension of the completion deadline because some changes were made to the design.
“And we anticipate practical completion by the 15th of September,” he, however, said, noting that Areonav, the Canadian firm that won the contract to build the cabin at the top of the tower, arrived in St. Vincent last week.
“All the bolts are up in place while the finishing work is going on inside,” Francis said, while Areonav’s spokesman, Richard Lubang told reporters “right now, we are in the process of setting up our equipment and our material and in the next week we will be starting the installation of the control tower, which actually would take a good 10 to 12 week before we get a completion of the tower itself.
….afterwards, we will come in and do the electronics and what not to get this tower finished and up and running soon,” he said.
The Barbados firm, Innotech Services Ltd., which is constructing the aircraft rescue and fire station, said.
“We have procured all the necessary material — door, windows, all that are here to be installed in the next couple of weeks. And we are hoping that definitely in October for sure that we are going to be there,” said project manager, Anderson Yarde.
Matthias said IADC expects Innotech to meet the completion deadline.
“I expect that Innotech will complete this building and hand it over to us so that we can start the process of preparing ourselves for the operational phase of the airport.”
Cuban engineer Alfredo Hernandez Garcia said it will take 17,562 cubic metres of concrete to pave the main commercial apron.
At the end of July, workers had already poured 2,576 cubic metres of concrete, or 367 concrete slabs.
“The only limiting factor that we have in meeting this plan is the weather conditions. Once it rains, we have to wait 24 hours before we can place any concrete. We have to meet this requirement, because, for us, the most important thing is he quality,” Garcia said.