Cabinet ministers have hailed Saturday’s return of airlift by Sunwing Airlines as “a major step in the revival” of Grand Bahama’s economy following Hurricane Dorian.
K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister; Senator Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for Grand Bahama; Michael Pintard, minister of agriculture and marine resources; Iram Lewis, minister of state for disaster preparedness, management and reconstruction; and Stephen Johnson, newly-appointed tourism general manager for Grand Bahama, all met the Sunwing flight into Freeport from Canada.
“This is an exciting day for Grand Bahama,” said Mr Thompson. “This is a major step in the revival of this island’s economy.”
Some 189 passengers from Montreal and Toronto were ushered into the refurbished FBO (fixed base operator) building that will temporarily operate as the hub for international flights at Grand Bahama International Airport.
“After what Grand Bahama has been through in the past few months, this is a welcomed moment,” said Mr Turnquest. “Hopefully this is the re-start of the island’s international flight agenda.”
Sunwing will provide two flights to Freeport each Saturday for the first month, from Montreal and Toronto, before adding more frequent flights to the island on other days. That calculates to about 400 visitors now coming to Freeport each Saturday.
Mr Thompson said: “There was a lot of work to be done in terms of getting the airport ready, organising the groups and many other things. We also understand that Club Fortuna has undergone renovations, and so this has come in time to accommodate these guests. There will be regular flights from Sunwing that will continue to come in, so we are very pleased to see them return.”
Mr Thompson added that Bahamasair was to restart international flights yesterday via an inaugural flight from Freeport to Fort Lauderdale, while American Airlines and other international carriers are also expected to return to Freeport.
“This is all another major step as a part of the recovery of Grand Bahama,” added Mr Thompson. “Bringing back international flights was vital for Grand Bahama to recover. We’ve seen international flights come back and we anticipate that this trend will continue.”
Mr Johnson said: “Each week we will have close to 200 passengers come in from Toronto and the same amount coming in from Montreal. These visitors will have an opportunity to ride around Grand Bahama, go to the fish fry, visit the beaches, take in some shopping and experience dining in Freeport.
“I would like to see tourism in Grand Bahama continue to grow. I would like to see more flights come in from Canada, the United States and from around the world, where people can see the beauty of this island. Grand Bahama is a special product for us, and we want to see more visitors come out to see what we have to offer.”
Christine Culmer and Veronica Cuccurullo, Sunwing representatives in Freeport, said: “This partnership is great for all of us. We have a great island here, and a lot to offer, and this is a start to what can become a major airlift boost for Grand Bahama. So it is also great for the local economy. This is a start of hopefully bringing more airlift into the island.
“It has been so important to Sunwing to get this back up and running. It was very important for them to see that the financial status of this island gets uplifted again by employing locals, and they’re doing it.”