Slow Take Off For Airport Projects

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No new updates have surfaced about the planned airport developments for the Family Islands, with at least one chamber of commerce chief saying the initial excitement about the project has now turned into doubt. President of the Long Island Chamber of Commerce, Mario Cartwright, told Guardian Business that complete silence has filled the air when it comes to the topic of revamping the Deadman’s Cay airport on the island, dampening spirits on the island to become a tourist destination.

“We’ve heard nothing,” Cartwright said. “We heard rumors that the government is going to build a new terminal building but if they do, that doesn’t resolve the whole problem with the airport. A new building won’t bring more tourists.”

One of the areas that require the most attention is the airport’s runway, which isn’t wide enough for private jets and commercial planes to land. While the new terminal would be welcomed over the current “outhouse” as Cartwright described it, the improvement of the runway is more of a priority and will have a greater impact increasing visitor arrivals by air.

The Deadman’s Cay airport is one of several Family Island airports that have been included in the government’s budget for improving such facilities. In the 2011/2012 budget, $6 million was approved for capital development for a number of airports in the Family Islands, a major increase from the 2010/2011 budget when only $70,050 was allocated for those infrastructure upgrades.

The Long Island Chamber chief was optimistic when the news broke in late May. But months removed from that announcement made in the House of Assembly, the key word for Cartwright has become “when”.

“We need to see some sort of progress being made with this because people are starting to become discouraged after they were filled with excitement about the airport finally being improved,” he said. “The airport is essential to the substantiality of Long Island and we have a unique product that we can offer to visitors, but we need to have the proper port of entry to get them here.”

Developing airports in the islands outside of the capital is a critical component to the government’s push to promote more Family Island travel, and crafting the proper plan is essential, according to President of SkyBahamas, Randy Butler. Operating a number of routes throughout the Family Islands, Butler mentioned that action must be taken in this area in order to prevent a situation where growth isn’t seen in the Out Islands.

“The lack of a strategic plan where one thing is being said but another is being done is hurting Family Islands and their tourism development,” Butler said. “If we say we are going to develop these islands the only way to do it is to develop the airports and bring them up to an acceptable standard where visitors can access them.”

Butler suggested that a reasonable way to revamp the airports and start to generate traffic on the Family Islands is to designate one of the busier islands like Eleuthera, the “hub” for travel throughout the other islands. That airport will handle international traffic and domestic flights will operate through there.

But if financing such a project is a challenge, a partnership with resorts on Family Islands could act as a funding resource, according to the SkyBahamas chief.

“A cost recovery system could work, where you have a major resort like Sandals that largely benefits from the visitors can lease the airport,” he said. “That way the government can make money on lease payments and the airport can generate revenue in landing fees and concessions.

“But if anything is bound to take place, the first step must be taken.”

The Nassau Guardian
Last Updated on Monday, 22 August 2011 06:06