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News from Guyana:

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Letter: Lessons from Guyana for Argyle International Airport
Published on July 10, 2017Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

“I would expect that we would begin to see regular flights for the next tourist season, which is the November tourist season.” (Honourable Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister, St Vincent and the Grenadines [SVG], March 27, 2017)

Drawing of the expansion at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA)

If we want a preview of Argyle International Airport (AIA) on the mainland of SVG, for, “regular flights for the next tourist season, which is the November tourist season,” and many tourist seasons to come, there is no better place to look than Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), the national airport of Guyana.

Located 41 km (25 mi) south of the capital, Georgetown, the airport was born in 1941 as a World War II American airfield. The 99-year lease of the facility by the United States was formally terminated on 26 May 1966, Guyana’s day of independence from Great Britain, thereby granting the new country a debt-free airport.

CJIA is currently undergoing a US$200 million modernization and expansion expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

Despite its long history and plans for future growth, the airport has always had difficulty attracting enough airlines, especially reputable ones, an issue that has plagued AIA for at least seven years preceding its February 14 opening.

Both Insel Air and Flyallways Airlines recently ended their service to Guyana when financial and airworthiness issues saw them grounded. Caribbean Airlines (CAL) is now the only regular scheduled carrier plying the New York-Georgetown route. But their roundtrip airfares from JFK airport are at an all-time high again and the government has failed to contract with established North American carriers. A typical CAL New York-Georgetown return flight costs US$1,100; a similar CAL roundtrip flight from New York to nearby Trinidad costs US$574, or less than half that amount.

Fly Jamaica and Dynamic Airlines, both discount charter companies, also ply the New York-Georgetown route, while reincarnated Eastern Airlines, now only a charter outfit, flies nonstop from Miami. But the service of all three has featured chronic delays and cancellations.

One of hundreds of Guyana’s waterfall features

Dynamic Airways, a non-scheduled US-owned airline that services the New York- Georgetown route about four times weekly, is notorious for being late, cancelling flights, and stranding passengers. On April 13, 2017, it was ordered by the United States Department of Transportation to pay US$120,000 in penalties for terminating several flights, failing to notify passengers in a timely manner about delays or cancellations, and refusing to issue refunds. Still, its low fares attract lots of budget passengers, as do those of the other charter operators.

Guyana has such poor air service largely because it is a small market for visitors: only 207,000 tourists and other overnight guests arrived in 2015. Compared to us, if it is assumed that half of these flyers were visitors from outside the Caribbean and South America, this figure would still be over five times the 20,000 or so international visitors who landed at E. T. Joshua International Airport in 2015 (see essay number 33 below).

Even with so many more annual stopover airline holiday visitors than us and a sustained growth in annual arrivals, something we also lack, most international flights to Guyana connect through Jamaica, Barbados, or Trinidad, as do all flights from Europe.

That President David Granger’s administration has yet to attract a reputable North American carrier to Guyana since coming to office in May 2015, despite the millions being spent to modernize and enlarge the airport, should be a warning to us as well. So should the fact that Guyana’s mega oil discoveries and a US$5 billion investment by ExxonMobil to extract and market its petroleum resources may soon give the government a bargaining chip to attract foreign carriers that we lack.

Guyana is also plagued by its New York bound planes being used to transport cocaine (see essay number 46), why Delta Airlines pulled out in 2013. Efforts to get Delta back have failed, as have attempts to get popular JetBlue to service the country.

Given that SVG’s tourism authority has been able to secure a meagre 17 Air Canada return flights from Toronto between December 14, 2017 and April 12, 2018 on that airline’s smallest plane capable of flying nonstop to AIA (see essay number 54 below) and a paltry seven return Sunwing charter flights from Toronto between October 22 to January 14 says that we are destined to replicate Guyana’s air transport woes but on a much larger scale. Based on my earlier estimates (see essay 54 below), these 24 flights, if fully occupied, would add a mere 600 additional foreign tourist visitors who would not be flying to the mainland save for the alleged convenience of being able to fly nonstop from Toronto.

Our very own illegal drug problem has been the trans-shipment by plane and boat of marijuana and cocaine: SVG has always rated as the top marijuana producer in the Eastern Caribbean and cocaine from Venezuela and Trinidad easily finds its way here for local consumption or transit elsewhere.

A thundering waterfall in Guyana

Guyana’s other bargaining chip to get more brand-name carriers to service its airport, one we also lack on the mainland, is the vast potential to enhance and promote its nearly limitless and largely untapped eco-tourism and traditional mass tourism resources that feature: an Atlantic coastal belt that stretches 270 miles and contains a pristine white sand beachfront and diverse coastal and ocean ecosystem, including Shell Beach, which extends some 90 miles along an undisturbed coastline in northwest Guyana and 63 Beach Berbice on the southeast Atlantic coast which stretches for ten miles; the North Rupununi Wetland which covers 54,000 acres -- over half the area of St Vincent Island (SVI) -- and is home to 400 species of fish; tens of thousands of acres of untouched savannas that support hundreds of species of wildlife, including jaguars; river resorts that provide many amenities, often including private beaches; an immense tropical forest area of 37 million acres – 43 times the area of SVI – much of it ideally suited for wilderness tourism; and more than 300 glorious waterfalls of all shapes and sizes.

Shell Beach, Guyana

Guyana’s current airport troubles, together with its long-term potential, give no reason to be optimistic about the success of AIA, a facility for which the prime minister has spuriously used, “…. the limitations of air access … due to the absence of an international airport” as its main public relations selling point since 2005. Even if we increased our international vacation passenger numbers to 50,000 a year over the next decade, a miracle of biblical proportions if there ever was one, but still half of convenience-challenged Guyana, we would still be hamstrung with an airport with only a handful of regularly scheduled and charter nonstop flights from North America every week, hardly sufficient to address AIA’s EC$400 million debt and EC$20 million annual operating costs.

Unlike Guyana, we have no bargaining chips except to grant unaffordable concessions to regularly scheduled carriers and exorbitant upfront fees for occasional charter flights, both of which would add to our country’s ruinous debt. This is why the experience of Guyana and the contents of Glen Beache’s recent speech in Montreal teach us that AIA is destined to be an airport without a cause (see essay 11).


This is the 57th in a series of essays on the AIA folly. My other AIA essays are listed below:

1. Get ready for a November election in St Vincent and the Grenadines! But which November?
2. Lessons for Argyle International Airport from Canada's Montreal-Mirabel International Airport
3. Lessons for Argyle International Airport from the cruise ship industry
4. Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle International Airport in St Vincent
5. Lessons from Trinidad and Tobago for Argyle International Airport
6. The dark side of tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
7. Why Argyle won't fly: Lessons from Dominica
8. Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
9. Airport envy Vincie-style
10. Fully realising our country's tourism potential
11. Airport without a cause
12. The unnatural place for an international airport
13. The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
14. False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
15. Airport politics and betrayal Vincie-style
16. Phony airport completion election promises, Vincie-style
17. Is Argyle International Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us’?
18. Has the cat got your tongue, prime minister?
19. More proof that Argyle won't fly
20. Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
21. The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
22. The world's four most amazing abandoned airports
23. Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport
24. Argyle Airport amateur hour
25. St Vincent's place in the world of travel
26. Investing in St Vincent's tourism industry
27. The Argyle Airport Prophecy: What the numbers say
28. Did the IMF drink the Comrade's Kool-Aid?
29. Why Qatar? Why St Vincent and the Grenadines?
30. Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
31. 'If I come, you will build it': Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle International Airport
32. City lessons for Argyle International Airport
33. Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
34. No ticky, no washy - Argyle-style
35. We have met the Vincentian tourism enemy and he is us
36. Hotel St Vincent 
37. Why St Vincent Island has so few tourists
38. Why Bequia is a gem of the Antilles
39. Why seeing is believing in the Caribbean tourism industry
40. St Vincent's cruise ship numbers are much lower than we think
41. Lessons from Barbados for Argyle Airport
42. Cuba's tourism rollercoaster: Lessons for Argyle Airport
43. What the world teaches Black Sands Resort and Villas
44. Not all Argyle airport critics are 'internet crazies'
45. Why Roraima Airways? Lessons for Argyle airport
46. The print media's take on the opening of Argyle International Airport
47. Our Argyle International Airport 'veritable miracle'
48. The Argyle airport 'poppy show' opening
49. St Vincent's 2016 tourism numbers are nothing to brag about
50. Going forward or moonwalking? Lessons for Argyle International Airport
51. The visible hand of Adam Smith at Argyle International Airport
52. St Vincent Island doesn't need any more hotel rooms
53. Lessons from St Lucia and Grenada for Argyle International Airport
54. Is Air Canada also a 'huge game-changer' for Argyle International Airport?
55. St Vincent's mainland tourist attractions
56. How St Vincent's tourist attractions stack up: Lessons for Argyle Airport
C. ben-David
Reads : 4931

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