The Argyle International Airport (AIA) marked its sixth year in operation with a recognition and awards ceremony last Friday, February 24.
At the function, Dr. Rudy Mathias who served as CEO of the International Airport Development Company (IADC) honoured Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves for the establishment of the airport.
Matthias presented a citation to the Prime Minister as he commended Gonsalves for being bold and courageous for acting on the idea of building a new airport “We … had to relocate the…Roman Catholic Cemetery. We had to relocate 142 built-in properties, homes and business. We had to relocate a segment of the Windward Highway…there was nothing simple at Argyle and much of what I’ve said there, most countries that are building an airport would take for granted because most countries would not have to do even one or two of those things. “
Matthias noted that most countries would be presented with a nice, flat area of land on which they can construct a 9000 ft runway and a building, but SVG was not so lucky.
“… So we had to play the hand that we were dealt and it took us … 12 long years to build the AIA. We must never forget that, and every new employee that comes to work here should be given a tour of the AIA Interpretation Centre … so they can have some pride in what and why they are here today, and we should never forget the work that we had to do to get to this point.”
Chief executive of the AIA, Dale Davis, who presented the opening remarks said he met with the Prime Minister who shared the journey between the time the airport was conceptualised to the celebration of its sixth year of operation.
“…Through that sharing I identified a couple of things: the strength and the courage to dream big … the vision of a new reality, looking at what was as it relates to E.T Joshua and the limitations associated with E.T Joshua in moving Vincentians and visitors to these shores between regional and international shores; thinking outside of the box,” Davis said.
“ When you look around mainland St Vincent, there aren’t many places where you can put an … airport so it took grand thinking to identify a spot with terrain not necessarily favourable to a 9000 ft runway so we had to look beyond the obstacles and see what the reality could be.”
The Prime Minister who was the keynote speaker, reminisced on the process of establishing the AIA noting that the airport was thought about as an impossible dream.
“For 50 years, the 50 year period of universal adult-suffrage, politicians talked about building an international airport, and indeed as independence came in 1979 we had even more talk about it, and in the 1990s, one Prime Minister not talking about building an international airport, said he wanted to extend Arnos Vale and that he had a 100 million US dollars in his back pocket to extend E.T Joshua. “
The Prime Minister said studies had also been done about extending the E.T Joshua Airport, but after seeking international consultancy the decision was made that it didn’t make sense to go to Arnos Vale.
“…You’re going to spend 100 million US dollars there and you couldn’t do anything other than have a jet airport where the jets would operate the 120 seaters, maybe an A320 which … is 140 seats but for at least half of the year because of the wind direction… because you were taking off in the wrong direction,” Gonsalves reminded.
“ You couldn’t take off into the mountains. The only thing that could’ve taken off to the mountains was Amerijet because that’s a cargo plane, and even so they had to get special insurance for the pilots because of the dangers to the pilots, so anybody who is talking about Arnos Vale, E.T Joshua, it was a complete hoax, technically not feasible and the money to be spent there, if you could raise the money, it’s a waste of time.”
Gonsalves also thanked all the employees and leaders who are instrumental in the operations of the AIA.
The employees who were awarded were drawn from the administration department, IT department, electrical department, customer service department, operations department, ground-handling department, building and civil department, security team and finance department.
Special Long Service awards were presented to Garth Saunders, former Chair of the Board, and Dr Rudy Matthias who served as CEO and Chair of the IADC.
The Prime minister also received a plaque of appreciation from the executives of the AIA for his dedication towards establishing the airport.
Also present at the ceremony was the current Chair of the Board of the AIA, Kenneth Young.