MAJOR AIRPORT UPGRADES

Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit.
Associated Press/Craig Ruttle/File

Governments in the Caribbean Community from The Bahamas in the north to Guyana and Suriname in the south are undertaking major airport upgrades to cater for growing travel pressures but of all the current or planned projects none will be more economically and developmentally useful to a country than Dominica’s plans to build a brand new international aerodrome.

Nestled between the French overseas territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe and long regarded as one of the pearls of Caribbean tourism, getting to Dominica is not that easy as the main Douglas Charles airport in the rocky north of the can be quite an experience as the aerodrome can only accommodate commuter type aircraft or the smaller private jets. For successive administrations, tour operators and visitors, the limited runaway length has been an economic nightmare and a source of frustration.

Now all this is about to change. The administration of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, head of government since 2004, last week announced plans to construct a brand new, world class international airport capable of accommodating most of the larger passenger jets in use today. Construction of the facility will begin in phases next year. The project could cost up to $400 million and should be concluded with the first passenger jets touching down in about four years.

Of all the larger island nations in the Eastern Caribbean subgrouping, Dominica and nearby St. Vincent were the standouts as their main airports could only have accommodated propeller and private jets, meaning that visitors from North America and Europe were forced to island hop after landing in nearby Barbados, Trinidad or Antigua for example. For many this was a turn off.

But no doubt encouraged by the construction of a brand new airport in nearby St. Vincent, Skerrit said authorities are racing ahead with plans to level parts of the mountainous northeastern region for runway construction.

In December, a contract for the project will be awarded. Money for this project is astonishingly coming from the controversial citizenship by investment scheme through which Dominica and several neighboring countries sell citizenship and national passports to foreigners for a fee if they invest in real estate and other developmental projects identified by authorities. PM Skerrit said the money raised from the investment scheme was proof that the program was useful. St. Vincent whose Argyle International Airport has been in operation for the past four years has refused under four-term PM Ralph Gonsalves to sign on to such a scheme, saying basically it is anti national.

“Fellow citizens, we continue to make good progress towards the development of our international airport. We have completed the construction of the lab where all of the material testing will be conducted for the international airport and the equipment is now being installed. Site clearance has started, and this will facilitate continued geotechnical and other site-specific surveys. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been completed and mitigating measures identified are being addressed. We are engaging in discussions with airlines operating in target source markets, so that when the airport is completed, we would have already secured Dominica as one of the new and exciting destinations on their route,” Skerrit said as he updated locals.

Other fellow CARICOM nations upgrading airports include Guyana, which in recent years added nearly 3000 feet to its main airport runway, built a new terminal building complete with modern jetways and is installing new navigational aids. Neighboring Suriname is also on the move, while the government in Port of Spain will spend nearly $200 million to build a new airport in Tobago starting in months. Work was delayed during the worst times of the COVID pandemic. In The Bahamas meanwhile, the new Phillip Davis government has halted $400 million worth of upgrades to several family island airports while it reviews the entire plans.

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