Fri, Feb 17, 2023
On Tuesday February 14, 2023, the Argyle International Airport celebrated 6 years since its operationalization back in February of 2017. This is a noteworthy milestone and one worth celebrating, hence many Vincentians quietly as well as through the media offered congratulatory statements in acknowledgement and appreciation of this achievement.
Six years have gone by rather quickly, or maybe it appears this way because of the great strides made during its short period since beginning operations. A sober reflection on the reality of our international airport will result in a deep appreciation of the enormity of the task undertaken by this government and the boldness of the vision that preceded that task of construction. The laying out of the vision of the construction of the international airport by Comrade Ralph years ago was mocked by some, but for others represented the type of boldness and new thinking required to move a Small Island Developing State like ours forward. The ULP administration came to office determined to correct or rather remedy the crippling situation this country found itself in, of not having an international airport. In the whole of CARICOM, SVG was one of the two remaining countries that didn’t have this critical piece of infrastructure at the turn of the century. It is generally accepted that one of the main reasons that our economy lagged those of our neighbors, was the absence of an international airport that was needed to drive the different sectors of our economy. There was a stifling effect on our tourism sector that included low investments and the resulting low visitor arrivals (mainly stay-over visitors) because of that direct link to international source markets. While previous governments, especially the NDP whose leader claimed to have the money in his back pocket, made the promise of an international airport a cornerstone of their elections campaign, it remained just that and nothing more. The reality was that they lacked the vision, foresight, and the ability to conceive and implement such a major project, and as such it was never undertaken. Such a task required new thinking, clear vision and that was exactly what SVG got with the election of the ULP in 2001, that began the process towards the AIA, that miracle at Argyle.
Signaling Intent, Laying out the Vision
On August 8, 2005, Comrade Ralph laid out in very clear detail the ULP’s plans to construct our country’s international airport at Argyle and in doing so answered two very important questions that saturated the discussions surrounding airport development. Below is an excerpt of that memorable address:
I begin first by answering two queries posed by some persons:
- (1) Does St. Vincent and the Grenadines really need an international airport?
- (2) And if we need one, can we afford one?
Fundamentally, both questions are inter-related. Having studied this issue for many years, it is clear to the ULP administration and its leadership that the full realisation of the potential of our country’s growth and development hinge on an international airport, among other vital considerations.
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.
Further, 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 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. Indeed, at the recently-concluded Conference of Heads of State and Government of CARICOM in July 2005, I made the point that the absence of an international airport in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica is a regional integration issue of the first order. There can be no level playing-field for this reason, among others.
Moreover, 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. The international airport will engender a greater oneness between the components of our nation at home and overseas in much the same way as the easy availability of advanced telecommunications facilities has done.
In replying to the query: Can we afford an international airport? I retort with another: “Can we afford not to have an international airport?” I appreciate the genuine concern about the huge cost of constructing and operating an international airport. I realise that the international airport in the short-to-medium term will not be able to generate enough revenues to pay for the costs of its construction. However, in the long-run it will be economically viable. In any event, without it we are likely to be severely hampered in our thrust for further economic development.
The huge cost of the International Airport Project enjoins us, however, to find the most creative methods of financing it so as to lessen the burden while maximising our benefit. I shall speak fully on the financing issue later.
Almost 18 years after that memorable address the words cannot be truer as we can say, the dream has been made a reality, SVG now has an international airport that receives direct international flights from North America and Europe. Our country made many sacrifices to get to this point and with an unsupportive parliamentary opposition, constantly spreading negative information sowing seeds of doubt in the minds of our people about the project, made the task even more challenging. These challenges that had to be overcome makes the reality more rewarding as it brings meaning to the saying “the harder the battle, the sweeter the victory”. This week as we celebrate the 6th anniversary of the opening of the AIA, we express gratitude to God for this miracle and for endowing our Comrade leader with the vision that began the journey.