By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St Vincent -- Actual construction of the new Argyle International Airport terminal building in St Vincent will begin within one week, Dr Rudy Matthias, chairman and CEO of the Argyle International Airport Development Company announced on Sunday.
Matthias, speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony for the terminal building, said he expects Taiwanese firm Overseas Engineering and Construction Company Ltd will complete the facilities within 28 months, as contracted.
He said that, while preparing for the design of the terminal building, IADC officials visited airports in Cuba, The Bahamas, Trinidad, Mexico, Portugal, and Atlanta.
Taiwanese firm, CECI Engineering Consultants Inc. was awarded the US$3.9 million contract for the design and supervision of landside facilities.
Matthias outlined the facilities to be constructed over the next two years.
The contract for the terminal building, which is being financed by Taiwan, is worth US$26.5 million.
The 100,071 square-foot terminal building compares to the 30,000 square feet at the E.T. Joshua Airport and is designed to comfortably accommodate 800 passengers at any one time, Matthias said.
Matthias said all earthworks at the airport would be completed by early 2013. The airstrip will be 9,000 feet long and would accommodate any aircraft, except the Airbus A380 -- the largest passenger airliner in the world.
The 22-acre apron at Argyle will be 11 times larger than at the E.T. Joshua Airport.
Matthias said 8.8 acres would be for commercial planes while 11.5 acres will be for general aviation.
General aviation includes aircraft flying to the Grenadines and private aircraft, which Matthias said the IADC expects would increase significantly when the airport is completed.
The apron will also have space to accommodate two 727 aircrafts, the type Amerijet landed at the E.T. Joshua Airport.
The Argyle International Airport, the largest capital project in the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines, was conceptualised in 2005 and construction commenced in 2008.
It was initially estimated to cost EC$480 million. The cost has since been revised to EC$652 million.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves’ “coalition of the willing” has joined in financing the airport. The coalition includes Cuba, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Iran, Libya, Mexico, Austria, and the Caribbean Community Development Fund.
Gonsalves said on Sunday that it is high time that “oppositionists” support the Argyle International Airport project.
In his first public address since going on vacation four weeks ago, Gonsalves cited the biblical account of Solomon’s construction of the temple, noting that David had left detailed plans and immense resources for its construction.
He said that, unlike Solomon, his administration, which came to office in 2001, was not left any plan or monies for building the airport.
Gonsalves, speaking on the eve of his 65th birthday, noted opposition to the project, which was being constructed in the face of the limited resources of St Vincent and the Grenadines and the global economic situation.
He said that 154 Vincentians and 47 Cuban are currently employed at the project.
About 80 more Vincentians will be employed when actual construction of the terminal building begins next week, with 800 persons expected to be employed when construction peaks.
Gonsalves said studies indicate that a cross-wind runway would be necessary only to accommodate aircraft flying to and from the Grenadines.
He said a crosswind runway would cost less than 1 percent of the cost of the airport.
Gonsalves said the value of the works completed is EC$180 million but noted that the IADC has spent only EC$28 million.
Vincentians can expect the new airport to be complete by the end of 2013 Gonsalves said on Sunday.
Current chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Dr Denzil Douglas, and Taiwan ambassador to Kingstown, Weber Shih, congratulated the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) for undertaking the construction of the Argyle International Airport.
Douglas -- who is also prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis -- and Weber spoke at the ground-breaking ceremony on Sunday.
Douglas noted that the terminal building was being commenced during a week when the global economic crisis especially impacted the United States, which saw its credit ratings downgraded from a perfect AAA to AA+ for the first time.
Douglas added that the effects would be felt within CARICOM, including its sub-regional grouping, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), where St Kitts and Nevis and SVG are part of an economic and political union.
In the meantime, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) on Monday said that there continues to be “no clarity” on how the EC$652 million international airport being constructed at Argyle is to be financed.
“Gonsalves, continues to ignore economic reality,” the NDP said in a press statement Monday morning.
The NDP said the prime minister’s speech on Sunday was “an empty address to a few party supporters in Argyle”.
The NDP said Gonsalves “has resorted to cheap political rhetoric in an effort to secure his political support base which has been wavering under the pressure of the ULP’s [Unity Labour Party’s] poor economic management of our country”.
It said the “confusion within the ULP” can be seen in the different dates Gonsalves gave on Sunday and CEO of the Tourism Authority Glen Beache gave international tourism stakeholders last year.
“2013 now joins 2012 and 2014 as possible dates for completion of the project,” the NDP said in its statement.
The NDP, which was in office for the 17 years ending March 2001, said it is clear on how it will proceed with the airport, citing its position outlined during the 2010 election campaign.
“… we have the support of a major international construction group capable of undertaking large-scale infrastructure projects. They will partner with an NDP administration to finally get the Argyle airport into a state of readiness,” the NDP reiterated.
“The construction company will work closely with the independent consultants already announced to assess and rectify the seeming planning mistakes made by this ULP administration. Once a clear plan of action is in place, the airport will be completed in a timely fashion so as to minimize any further financial wastage,” the NDP.
The party said its position “is not based in fantasy or empty rhetoric.”
“The New Democratic Party cares about airport development, we have the support to do it and we will pursue it sensibly, with regard for our country and our people’s economic reality.
The NDP also said Gonsalves must change his position on regional airline LIAT, adding that he should listen to his own Ministry of Tourism.
“The Ministry is saying that the high cost of flying via LIAT has negatively impacted regional visitor arrivals to St Vincent and the Grenadines. Invite competition to come in so that you increase visitor arrivals to our shores. Give the population a chance to benefit from the absence of a monopoly,” the party stated.
“Invite competition and do it now. That is priority. Fix the roads in the country and the infrastructure so that the current airport at Arnos Vale will not be flooded by 30-minute rain showers. That is priority,” the NDP further said.
Labels: Argyle, Taiwan