January 4, 2013

The year of aviation

Fri Jan 04, 2013

It is not by chance that the very first media conference hosted by our Prime Minister for the New Year featured aviation issues, for prominent among the challenges facing this tiny nation in 2013 will be those surrounding this sector. There are others of course, including energy and agriculture, but there can be little doubt that air transportation will be a dominant agenda item this year.{{more}}

Top of the list is the crucial completion stage of the Argyle International Airport. After all, this is the single biggest investment, public or private, in the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines. In fact, no other small ination in the Caribbean has dared to undertake such an ambitious project on its own. The Maurice Bishop International airport at Pointe Salines in Grenada is the closest, but the context, regionally and globally was far different from that of today.

Argyle has stoked all kinds of emotions and political controversy, but, save a tiny minority among us, there is now a national consensus about the need to complete and make a success of this project. Whatever reservations there were at the outset, we are now too far advanced to turn back, the international airport at Argyle is a fact of life. Our focus must now be on its completion, and crucially, its efficient management and operation, if it is not to go the way of far too many investments by governments in the region. We simply cannot afford to go down that road.

It is understandable that upon completion of the airport, there will be a lot of back-slapping and self-congratulations, deservedly so. Prime Minister Gonsalves would have pulled off the most remarkable feat of his entire career in seeing this undertaking to its fruition. But we will not have the luxury of resting on our laurels, there must be a hard-nosed business-like approach to its operation. That necessitates tapping the best possible expertise in its management and not falling prey to either narrow nationalism or personal self-interest. We have too much at stake, too much to lose.

Similarly, our investment in the regional airline, LIAT, is a vital one, economically, but also emotionally for Vincentians. Our travelling experience has been intrinsically liked with the fortunes of LIAT for more than half a century. We have both benefitted from them and suffered in the process. This administration has taken the bold move to take the reins in its hands to try and make LIAT work to our advantage and that of the region as a whole.

Embittered by our experiences and poor management practices over the years, many Vincentians have been sceptical of continuing public investment in LIAT. However no viable alternative has been put forward.

A further step into trying to make LIAT work is now being taken by shareholder governments. Most encouraging has been the decision by the government of Dominica to get on board and invest. It is to be hoped that St Lucia, a major beneficiary of LIAT’s services, will do likewise. The plans for renewing the aged fleet and expanding the range, are certainly not just ambitious but necessary. They need to be accompanied though, by proper management –– customer-oriented and people-focused. As with the Argyle initiative, business principles must be at the forefront.

Both enterprises have huge bearing on the fortunes of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Our collective support and vigilance are essential to their success.