By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Visitors to Abaco have endured “first and last impressions” that are “sorely lacking” due to the failure to properly maintain the island’s $30m airport, a private sector leader said yesterday.
Ken Hutton, pictured, the Abaco Chamber of Commerce’s president, implored the government to permit “local input” in solving the airport terminal’s woes ahead of the resumption of peak tourism season in November-December 2019.
Arguing that it was “not the best model” to have decision-making power concentrated in Nassau, Mr Hutton said conditions at the Leonard Thompson International Airport frequently switched between “good and terrible” within a matter of days.
Fearful that it could deter repeat visitors and recommendations to friends in a tourist market that is extremely high-end, Mr Hutton said deficiencies included a lack of air conditioning, bathrooms that were poorly maintained and did not function, and wildlife that was making a home for itself in the terminal building’s guttering.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, told Tribune Business that the Airport Authority is trying to fix these defects and others after they were brought to its attention by the Abaco Chamber of Commerce and others.
He added that the Marsh Harbour airport, in common with all other Family Island airports, lacked a funding mechanism or income stream to finance infrastructure improvements and maintenance. A passenger facility user charge will now likely be imposed on airport users “in the near term”, the minister said.
Mr Hutton, who said he had first written to the Ministry and Airport Authority with his concerns in early July, added that he was not opposed to such a charge provided the monies raised were used for maintenance purposes, and there was strict accountability and transparency around their use.
“As long as the fee is not too onerous, I don’t think there’s a lot of people that will have an issue with that provided the facility is properly maintained and kept up to standard,” the chamber chief said. “And there’s accountability with the funds. It must be transparent and accounted for.”
Mr Hutton said he had informed Mr D’Aguilar and Algernon Cargill, director of aviation, that Abaco’s private sector is “ready, willing and able to assist. We have the capacity and expertise, and it is a major international airport.
“We have proposed that they talk to us, bring us in, so we can help them look at what a lot of the issues are and provide solutions to them,” he added. “At this point they have not reached out to us. We have not been included.
“This is our neighbourhood, but all decisions are being made in Nassau with regard to the local airport. We don’t think that’s the best model. This thing is not rocket science, but there has to be local input into the situation.”
Mr Hutton said the airport terminal’s problems included the constant breakdown of air conditioning and generators; bathrooms where sinks did not work, and there was a frequent absence of paper towels and toilet tissue; and wildlife that had made a home in the guttering.
Emphasising that the Chamber’s focus was solely on the airport terminal building, and that it had no intention of becoming involved with issues such as air traffic control and airside operations, Mr Hutton said the lack of maintenance often resulted in visitors enduring sweltering conditions in the departure lounge and similar issues when they arrived.
“The Marsh Harbour International Airport is the first and last thing that our guests see when they arrive and leave,” the Chamber president told Tribune Business. “It’s their first and last impression of Abaco, and right now that impression is sorely lacking.
“It’s embarrassing. It’s good some days and terrible on others. It’s hit and miss, it really is. There’s no consistency. It’s good one day and then horrible for three, and then good for four days and horrible for two. It’s not how you run an airport. We’re concerned about the airport terminal building. It could be much better, and now’s the time to do it because we’re in slow season.”