My last Argyle International Airport (AIA) essay addressed the goalpost shifting at this new facility on the mainland of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) by discussing the envy-cum-pride psychological and site-based reasons government officials have offered to validate its construction.
My aim here is supplement these by interrogating the main off-airport justifications for its construction.
Greater Convenience. In his “famous” August 8, 2005 speech, “The International Airport Project at Argyle,” explaining the need to construct AIA, the Honourable Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, argued that:
“… air access difficulties constitute a practical brake on the movement of our nationals who reside in North America and Europe in returning to their homeland as frequently as many of them would like.”
Though I have already questioned this assertion, there is more to say. Other things being equal, non-stop flights certainly are more convenient than having to transit through other airports. Unfortunately, other things are rarely equal: non-stop flights often cost more, sometimes offer fewer amenities, generally operate less frequently, and leave unaddressed the top inconvenience factor, namely having to overnight in transit if you live far from the hubs in Toronto, New York, and Miami.
In 2018 there will be 98 nonstop flights from New York, Toronto, and Miami to AIA (or less than two per week each carrying a maximum average of 156 passengers) as opposed to over 1,600 annual nonstop multi-day LIAT flights seven days a week from Barbados (or over 30 per week averaging a maximum of around 58 passengers each) and hundreds more from the nearby hubs in Grenada, St. Lucia, and Trinidad to conveniently serve local, regional, and international travelers.
These figures suggests that the most convenient way to reach the mainland is on a small plane from a neighbouring island.
Enhanced Connectivity. According to Dr. Gonsalves in the same speech:
“…. the integration of the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines with those of the OECS, CARICOM, the wider Caribbean, Latin America, North America and Europe is limited to the extent that there are huge restraints in air access. Foreign investors often shy away from St. Vincent and the Grenadines when the limitations of air access arise due to the absence of an international airport.”
It is unclear how AIA would better integrate these regions when travel within the Caribbean has almost exclusively by small commuter planes flying between its international airports. For example, it would be grossly inefficient for big jets to fly a few dozen passengers between SVG and Trinidad, our biggest regional trading partner, only 176 miles (283 km) away.
There have also been few commercial ties between Latin America and most of the insular Caribbean nations that have had international airports for decades. Before the destructive neo-Bolivarian reforms, Venezuela used to send tons of fresh produce to the southern Dutch Antilles (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) on a daily basis, all of it by boat.
There is also no historical evidence that the absence of an international airport has ever deterred “foreign investment” in SVG: from the time the country became a British colony in 1763 to the opening of AIA in 2017 – a 254 year period – countless foreign entities invested tens of millions of dollars on a variety of projects including sugar production, all manner of the retailing of imported goods (nearly brought in by plane), telecommunications, banking and insurance, and factory assembly. Likewise, nearly all foreign investor exports conveniently and cheaply left the country by boat.
Given the slow takeoff in passenger airlift from a facility supposedly built to satisfy a pent-up passenger demand, the goalposts also have been shifted to say that AIA would stimulate the growth of both our fishing and agricultural industries by allowing the seamless export of much large volumes of produce. Although I have already disputed this assertion, there is more evidence still to debunk it.
Stimulating the growth of our fishing industry. Sabato Caesar, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, has argued that:
“The new international airport … is expected to play a critical role in enhancing the viability of the local fishing industry…. The minister said that investors are likely to be more inclined to get involved in fish exports, once the issue of market access is addressed.”
Mr. Caesar cannot be unaware that transporting most sea products by air is prohibitively expensive. The fact that the Bequia Seafood Company recently airlifted some 36,000 pounds of allegedly fresh (as opposed to frozen) tuna and conch from AIA to Miami does not contradict this assertion because such shipments are infrequent and because, “Air cargo is responsible for transporting [just] over 5% of the world’s annual catch” of marine products.
The recent announcement that Rainforest Seafoods, a multinational company headquartered in Jamaica, has signed an agreement with the government of SVG to build a state-of-the-art fishing and packaging facility at Calliaqua that would employ 50 fishermen directly and 200 fishermen indirectly offers more proof for my assertion: this facility would not affect cargo airlift at AIA because, like most such companies around the globe, Rainforest transports all its international produce by ship.
Stimulating increased agricultural production. Both agricultural Minister Caesar and Minister of Tourism Cecil McKie have made the same specious argument about airlifting farm produce to foreign destinations. The former has boldly stated that, “farmers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will be benefitting significantly from the Argyle International Airport,” carefully leaving undefined the term “significantly” or how our farmers would benefit.
Like aquatic species, nearly all agricultural produce in the world is transported in temperature controlled boats, trains, and trucks because these are, by far, the three most economical ways to send bulk produce over long distances. Even highly perishable fresh fruit shipped internationally no longer needs to be transported by plane because of the development of “controlled atmosphere technology.”
Taken together, I estimate that no more than two percent of all the food produced in the world conveyed to other countries is transported by plane.
Stimulating visits by super rich tourists. The signing on July, 28, 2018 of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Kayan Aviation Holdings for the construction of a $US 7 million “Commercially Important People” (CIP) lounge at AIA to meet the alleged needs of millionaire visitors to Canouan and Mustique is the latest supposed airport spinoff.
Not only have we signed several other such non-binding MOU’s over the past years, only one of which (Black Sands Resort and Villas) may bear any fruit, this proposed venture will fail to meet its tourism-enhancing expectations as described by Camillo Gonsalves, the Minister of Finance. Many of the millionaire visitors to Canouan and Mustique travel there by yacht; others fly directly to Canouan from America using commercial or private jets; of the rest, most would continue to transit by plane from Barbados whose elegant and spacious international airport has two executive lounges and many upscale stores and boutiques; flying to Canouan and Mustique from the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) in Barbados would always be more convenient than doing so from AIA because of GAIA’s 12 international daily arriving flights from all over the world compared to our meagre twice-a-week annual average from only three North American destinations; and the small cohort of the super-rich arriving at AIA do so on their planes or privately chartered aircraft, landing and taking off when it pleases them. Such individuals have no interest in wasting precious holiday time at an airport.
If AIA was built for reasons besides capitalizing politically on our childish airport envy anxiety disorder, the regnant assumption that informs this series of essays, these do not include convenience, connectivity, transporting produce, or meeting the non-existent needs of super-rich travellers.
This is the 74th in a series of essays on the AIA folly. My other AIA essays are listed below:
- Get ready for a November election in St Vincent and the Grenadines! But which November?
- Lessons for Argyle International Airport from Canada’s Montreal-Mirabel International Airport
- Lessons for Argyle International Airport from the cruise ship industry
- Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle International Airport in St Vincent
- Lessons from Trinidad and Tobago for Argyle International Airport
- The dark side of tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
- Why Argyle won’t fly: Lessons from Dominica
- Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
- Airport envy Vincie-style
- Fully realising our country’s tourism potential
- Airport without a cause
- The unnatural place for an international airport
- The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
- False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
- Airport politics and betrayal Vincie-style
- Phony airport completion election promises, Vincie-style
- Is Argyle International Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us’?
- Has the cat got your tongue, prime minister?
- More proof that Argyle won’t fly
- Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
- The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
- The world’s four most amazing abandoned airports
- Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport
- Argyle Airport amateur hour
- St Vincent’s place in the world of travel
- Investing in St Vincent’s tourism industry
- The Argyle Airport Prophecy: What the numbers say
- Did the IMF drink the Comrade’s Kool-Aid?
- Why Qatar? Why St Vincent and the Grenadines?
- Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
- ‘If I come, you will build it’: Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle International Airport
- City lessons for Argyle International Airport
- Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
- No ticky, no washy – Argyle-style
- We have met the Vincentian tourism enemy and he is us
- Hotel St Vincent
- Why St Vincent Island has so few tourists
- Why Bequia is a gem of the Antilles
- Why seeing is believing in the Caribbean tourism industry
- St Vincent’s cruise ship numbers are much lower than we think
- Lessons from Barbados for Argyle Airport
- Cuba’s tourism rollercoaster: Lessons for Argyle Airport
- What the world teaches Black Sands Resort and Villas
- Not all Argyle airport critics are ‘internet crazies’
- Why Roraima Airways? Lessons for Argyle airport
- The print media’s take on the opening of Argyle International Airport
- Our Argyle International Airport ‘veritable miracle’
- The Argyle airport ‘poppy show’ opening
- St Vincent’s 2016 tourism numbers are nothing to brag about
- Going forward or moonwalking? Lessons for Argyle International Airport
- The visible hand of Adam Smith at Argyle International Airport
- St Vincent Island doesn’t need any more hotel rooms
- Lessons from St Lucia and Grenada for Argyle International Airport
- Is Air Canada also a ‘huge game-changer’ for Argyle International Airport?
- St Vincent’s mainland tourist attractions
- How St Vincent’s tourist attractions stack up: Lessons for Argyle Airport
- Lessons from Guyana for Argyle International Airport
- The world’s best tourist islands: Lessons for Argyle International Airport
- Explaining Argyle airport on St Vincent Island
- Explaining Argyle airport: A clash of axioms
- Questions and answers about the Argyle airport puzzle
- More questions and answers about the Argyle airport puzzle
- Explaining Argyle airport: Concluding remarks
- A “loaded question” logical fallacy: Argyle airport’s legacy
- Argyle airport’s opportunity costs
- What cruise ship visits reveal about St Vincent’s tourist industry
- How welcome are Air Canada and Sunwing Airlines?
- Neither Happy Valentine’s Day nor “a huge game changer for us” at Argyle airport
- Why is Argyle airport not taking off?
- Are American Airlines flights from Miami to St Vincent yet another game changer?
- The painful future of nonstop international travel to Argyle airport
- Get ready for another tourism folly at Mt. Wynne, St. Vincent
- Shifting the goalposts at Argyle airport