May 16, 2008
New EC $58 million airport opened at Canouan

The new EC $58 million Jet Airport that was opened in Canouan last Sunday, May 11th, is the factor which will have the greatest impact on the lives of Canouan residents, says investor Antonio Saladino, of Canouan Resorts Development (CRD) Group of Companies.{{more}}

Speaking at the historic opening ceremony, Saladino said that the Jet Airport was crucial to the survival of his investment on Canouan, which he says has totaled $1.6 billion thus far.

“Of all those achievements (his investments on Canouan), nothing single-handedly will have a greater impact on each and everyone’s lives to the same extent of this new jet port….Without the appropriate infrastructure there could be no growth, and no growth means that the project to date could not be sustained,” he said.

“This facility now guarantees us more visitors, and the residual effect of this investment to both Canouan and the state will be monumental,” he further stated.

He also called on residents to change their attitude to business, so as to capitalize on the opportunities that will come as tourism develops on the island.

“No longer should local entrepreneurs be catering only to local businesses. Everyone needs to embrace the enormous business opportunities and develop facilities for the visitors who want to interact and spend their money directly with you…what ever you can think of, do it to attract the visitors’ dollars,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves stated the case for the airport, saying that a more than hundred per cent jump in passenger travel to Canouan over the last four years will make the airport immediately viable.

In 2003, some 15,000 passengers landed at the pre-existing airport, while records show that in 2007 this number jumped to 33,000.

Additionally, Dr Gonsalves said that they expect visitors to Canouan and Mustique, who usually leave their private jets in Barbados, St Lucia and on mainland St Vincent, will now use the facility at Canouan.

He lambasted Opposition politicians who had questioned the wisdom of the US$15 million commercial loan at an 8.5 per cent interest rate, in light of the large national debt.

“This is an investment. When you have to make an investment, and you can’t get the money through grant or you can’t get it as a soft loan, you have to borrow it at commercial rates, and try to get it at the most reasonable commercial rates possible. That is the reality of the world,” Dr Gonsalves said.

The project, which included the extension of the runway, new air-field lighting, expansion of the terminal building and the control towers, was a joint venture between the government, which contributed EC$41 million (US$15 million), Saladino, whose company contributed $3.5 million in cash and other services to which significant cost can be attributed.

These included administration, and project management services, Dr Gonsalves explained.

Canouan Construction Associates (CCA), a subsidiary of CRD Ltd, was awarded the contract for the 14-month project.

The new runaway is 5,900 feet long, up from the previous 2,300 feet. This is 1,300 feet more than what exists at the ET Joshua airport on mainland St Vincent, making the Canouan airport the largest airport in the state.

Dr Gonsalves said that development in the airline industry and the continuous upgrading of aircraft made the Canouan Jet port project necessary.

The American Eagle airline flies regularly to the resort destination of Canouan, but prior to the runway extension, their ATR-72 aircraft operated at a reduced capacity of 30 passengers and limited fuel in order to take off there.

The aircraft can now operate at full capacity (72 passengers), and Dr Gonsalves boasted that any further fleet improvement can also be accommodated at the Canouan airport.

“The development of the airline industry is not waiting on us. We have to put our house in order to face air travel in the 21st century as we seek to build a modern, competitive, many sided, post colonial economy, which is at once, local, regional and international,” Dr Gonsalves said as he delivered the feature address at the opening ceremony.

The ceremony included addresses by Minister of Tourism Glen Beache, Director of Grenadines Affairs Edwin Snagg, and Parliamentary Representative for the Southern Grenadines Terrance Ollivierre.

Well-wishers were ferried down free of charge on the MV Barracuda, courtesy the Government, and besides the speeches, were well entertained by the Canouan Government School and a cultural group from Union Island, with beautiful big drum playing, May Pole dancing and chorale speaking. (KJ)