Family Island airport upgrades need $200m


Tribune Business Reporter

TOURISM and Aviation Minister Dionisio D'Aguilar yesterday lamented the "woefully inadequate" state of many of this nation's Family Island airports, noting that government is now eying roughly $80m upgrades to two of their busiest airports.

Mr D'Aguilar estimated close to $200m is needed now to bring all Family Island airports "up to speed".

Speaking with Tribune Business, Mr D'Aguilar acknowledged that government lacks the necessary resources to carry out the needed upgrades and will have to get "creative". He noted the current model of government-owned and operated Family Island airports was "no longer viable".

Mr D'Aguilar noted a 2014 survey by the Stantec consultancy group had identified the Moss Town airport in Exuma and the North Eleuthera airport as the next two busiest airports after New Providence and Abaco.

The government is now eying upgrades to those two gateways.

"The Stantec report looked at every single airport and identified those airports as the next two busiest airports in terms of passengers and airport movement after Marsh Harbour," he said.

"In 2014, Stantec said an investment of $160m was needed to bring all of the airports up to speed. We think that number is up to $200m. Clearly there isn't sufficient funding in the treasury to do that.

"What was in a deplorable state then is in an even worst state now. Funding for the aviation sector has to be holistically looked at. How are we going to upgrade all these airports when the government doesn't have the resources?"

Of the 28 Family Island airports, 16 cater to international traffic and must meet International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) safety and security requirements for air travel - something he described as an extremely costly undertaking.

Mr D'Aguilar stated: "Exuma and North Eleuthera will likely cost in the region of $40m each. Right off the top, you're talking $80m. If you go to those islands today the terminal buildings they are woefully inadequate. The government really needs to upgrade the airport infrastructure."

Mr D'Aguilar suggested this could be achieved via public private partnership.

"You could grant concessions to a private company to operate the airport. They would have to fix up the airport and in return they get to charge a fee to make a return on investment," Mr D'Aguilar suggested.

"We're going to have to be a little creative. These airports are screaming for investment now and we're going to be coming to Bahamians to say invest in this infrastructure and become owners with the government."

In order to maintain these upgraded facilities Mr D'Aguilar said a passenger facility charge will likely have to be introduced in the family islands, similar to the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA).

"If you're going to put $40m into an airport and want it to be maintained, the customary way to do that is for every one who uses it to pay a fee just as is done with LPIA," he said.