Ministers are to consider a proposal to begin a worldwide search for a private firm to partner with Government to run the Grantley Adams International Airport, Minister of International Transport Kerrie Symmonds has revealed.
Symmonds is to present the plan for a public/private partnership when Cabinet meets in weekly session tomorrow.
Symmonds, who launched a project to rehabilitate the airport’s pavement and expand its near 40-year-old terminal at the Caribbean Development Bank’s Wildey headquarters this morning, maintained that the move is critical to develop and expand the island’s lone airport.
He said it was necessary to seek a worldwide tender as Barbados did not possess the technical knowledge for such an initiative.
Government, he added, was also not in a financial position to develop the airport on its own and would therefore need assistance.
Symmonds said: “It is known that we intend to work with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which is essentially the private sector arm of the World Bank and the world’s leading developmental institution, to give us the kind of technical expertise because Barbados does not possess it in a matter of this nature.
“It lends not only to an improved operation efficiency, but for our purposes in Barbados it is critical because of the capacity constraints. Our two terminals, the arrival and departure lounges are literally bursting at the seams and we cannot continue in this vein…substantial developmental work has to be done and the country is not in a financial position where we can add that to one of the several guarantees that the Government of Barbados has been asked to make.”
The civil aviation Minister said this would not be the first such partnership in the Caribbean as Suriname, St Maarten, Jamaica and Martinique had also entered public/private partnerships to operate their airports.
But he insisted that while the concessionaire would be granted a lease of between 20 to 30 years, the airport would remain government property.
Symmonds said: “The proposal will be that the concessionaire, once identified, would be given an operational lease for a period of 20 to 30 years so that they have a reasonable time to have a return on their investment. The ownership of the airport will remain with the Government and people of Barbados and at the end of the period of the operational lease the control of the airport will revert to the [airport].”
He also said the time had come for Grantley Adams to find ways of making additional revenue.
While studies by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) showed than an average airport in North America and Asia had non-aeronautical revenues of around 60 per cent, in Barbados it was 25 per cent, he said.
Symmonds said the large plot of land surrounding the airport needed to be used efficiently.
He said: “We need to have substantially greater returns on our capacity to see the aviation sector first and the airport as a vehicle within the aviation sector secondly, giving this country greater revenue.
“As far as I’m concerned it is unacceptably low, but yet we have tremendous potential…we have acres and acres of airport land which we have not utilized, but which has the potential for a number of things such as a hotel, car rental facility, aviation related industry, maintenance repairs and operations.
“All those things usually bring revenue to airports. Those things are the things we are not doing and if we are to seriously speak the language of growth in Barbados and seriously speak the language of transformation and development in Barbados then the hour has come when there has to be a fundamental, philosophical rethinking of the process.”
Speaking on the CDB-funded Pavement Rehabilitation and Expansion Project, Symmonds said the $80.8 million loan would be used to resurface the 2.8 mile long runway, allowing for larger commercial planes to land at the airport.
He said this would allow large commercial jets such as the Airbus A380 to be able to land at the airport.
The Minister said: “The pavement work is not only going to resurface the runway, but also the taxiways and the parking aprons and lend us capacity in the context of making us able now to play host to the Airbus A380 which is the largest piece of equipment being used in commercial travel.”
Symmonds gave his assurance that operations at the airport would not be compromised, with the majority of work scheduled to be done between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
He said while the project had not yet gone out to tender, he was hoping that would be done early next month.
Symmonds said once that was completed it was expected that construction would begin around May.