By YOURI KEMP
The government’s top aviation official yesterday pledged it “will not abandon” the planned revamp of Long Island’s Deadman’s Cay airport despite failing to attract private investors to the project.
Algernon Cargill, pictured, the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation’s director of aviation, told the Long Island Business Outlook conference that those approached by the government believed “the airport is too small” to generate a profitable return on their investment.
To overcome this reluctance, Mr Cargill said the government planned to market the Deadman’s Cay airport as part of a “package” deal with other Family Island airports set to undergo similar multi-million dollar upgrades.
He explained that, if private investors were interested in investing in Exuma’s (Georgetown) or north Eleuthera airports via a public-private partnership (PPP), then Long Island’s airport must be included as part of the deal.
“We are packaging this airport along with other airports, so that if we have investors that are interested in the Exuma airport - and if they want a public private partnership with the Exuma airport - we will say to them: ‘Yes, that is possible, but the Deadman’s Cay airport must be a part of the package’. We will not abandon this airport,” Mr Cargill said.
Deadman’s Cay is one of 28 Family Island airports that the Government wants to upgrade to international standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and other regulatory bodies, so that they can receive international flights and improve the location’s accessibility to both tourists and Bahamians.
Consultants have placed at $180m-$200m total price tag on overhauling all these locations and, given that the cash-strapped Public Treasury’s issues have only worsened since Hurricane Dorian, the government has little choice but to seek private capital and investors to meet these costs.
Long Island residents and businesses have long viewed the Deadman’s Cay airport as a critical infrastructure upgrade, believing the absence of a facility that can receive direct international flights has deprived the island of its rightful tourism market share.
Promising that the new airport will be designed “20 years into the future”, Mr Cargill said its planning would seek “to avoid this flooding of the runway in Deadman’s Cay” as occurred when Hurricane Joaquin struck the island in 2015.
“The plan is to extend the runway from 4,400 feet to 6,500 feet to accommodate large jets that can bring up to 100 passengers,” he explained. “The 6,500 foot runway will equate what we have in most of our islands. The proposed runway will be able to accommodate the American Airlines regional jets and similar planes.... so international flights can fly into Long Island.”
Mr Cargill continued: “A 10,000 square foot terminal will be designed to accept both international and domestic flights. The design is now 50 percent completed and expected to break ground early 2020.
“We have to build capacity for the future. We are building for 20 years into the future, and will work on securing the required land we need to extend the runway and build a new terminal.”
Mr Cargill said the airport’s terminal and runway expansion will be achieved by the government’s compulsory acquisition of the necessary land from private owners. He promised: “There will be compensation for the owners of the land. The government does not want to have the land for free, but [seeks] co-operation with the proposed owners who also wish to see the airport being developed.”
Looking to the future, Mr Cargill said: “Now is the time to prepare for when the airport comes and, certainly, if Long Island is going to capitalise on the fate of what happened to the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama.
“We are planning to focus on the actual impact of aviation’s contribution directly to tourism but, unfortunately, The Bahamas does not produce consistently aviation-related data and aviation’s direct contribution to tourism or the GDP of The Bahamas. But we are working with the Department of Statistics and outside sources to be able to track aviation contribution to GDP and the subsequent spin-offs in The Bahamas.”
The architect for the Deadman’s Cay airport is Gus Ferguson of Ferguson’s Architects, and the runway engineer is Lambert Knowles of Engineering & Technical Services Bahamas.