The first ever transatlantic flight to St Vincent and the Grenadines(SVG), landed this week, officially connecting the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe to the archipelagic state with a direct flight from London’s Heathrow International Airport.
Groups of spectators lined the outskirts of the Argyle International Airport (AIA), on Wednesday afternoon to see international carrier Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural flight touch down on the runway, bringing with it at least 111 passengers.
“This is quite an exciting opportunity for St Vincent and the Grenadines. We welcome Virgin Atlantic, the very first transatlantic flight to St Vincent and the Grenadines since we have completed the construction of the Argyle International Airport, and I want to say that we’ve really had some challenging periods,” Carlos James, Minister of Tourism and Aviation said during a ceremony following the arrival of the aircraft.
He noted that the international airport was being built during the global recession of 2008 but that construction continued with the perseverance of the Prime Minister.
He added that it is facing yet another challenging period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“…We are likely to have three major carriers on the runway of AIA, this same time next week. This is why we are grappling with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. St Vincent continues to show the world that we are determined, resilient and we are here to do business,” James said.
“We are open, we work within the confines of the …health protocols but we welcome visitors to our destination,” and nationals back home, the Minister said.
He told those present at Wednesday’s ceremony that the partnership between Virgin Atlantic and this country was a strategic, as it puts SVG “right at the doorstep of the European market”.
This is because it is likely that travellers from other countries like Italy, France, Germany or Holland will utilise the direct service out of Heathrow as a gateway to this Caribbean destination.
Hannah Swift, country manager of the Caribbean operations of Virgin Atlantic Airlines,also spoke briefly at the ceremony.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be here today on this inaugural flight, and our twice weekly service to St. Vincent and the Grenadines has commenced at long last and we are thrilled that this now solidifies that long-lasting relationship and we will be bringing lots of tourists to your beautiful island,” the Virgin Atlantic official said.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves congratulated Glen Beache, the CEO of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority and his team for the work done in negotiating and putting the necessary things in place to ensure the partnership with Virgin Atlantic.
“I congratulate you. Your father would be very proud of you and I am proud of you and I love you very much. And let us continue to go from strength to strength,” he said.
Gonsalves made reference to the Book of Hebrews, saying that the international carrier’s landing reminds him of the classical definition of faith.
“As I understand it, faith involves two things. The knowledge of what is not yet seen and the realisation of that which is foreseen…You would have knowledge of that which is not yet seen. That’s why we have knowledge of Jesus Christ but the book of James teaches us that faith without works is dead, is useless,” he said.
“And in the Argyle International Airport and with Virgin Atlantic, we have conjoined faith and works. And what have we produced today? Immense joy. There’s a happiness across this land and I am personally overjoyed.”
The prime minister reminisced on when the first small aircraft landed at the AIA. On that occasion, he said he had kissed the ground.
On Wednesday, when Virgin Atlantic made its inaugural flight, he said he felt as though it was “lifting St Vincent and the Grenadines higher and I am very grateful for that”.
With the country having attracted its first direct transatlantic flight, Gonsalves said now is not the time for SVG to rest on its laurels.
And he encouraged airport and hotel employees to get vaccinated.
“The vaccine is safe. It is available. It is the best tool in the toolbox. Let us be vaccinated because the traveller who is coming in, by and large, are vaccinated…” the prime minister said. “We are doing good, but we can do better. And there is something called COVID. It’s a pandemic. Virgin is likely to have been here a year earlier were it not for the pandemic. We have to have everybody who is working at Argyle International Airport, from the cleaners, the security, all through the technical position to the highest level of the CEO, customs immigration, everybody. You have got to be vaccinated.”