EDITOR, The Tribune.
Now that the GB Port Authority and Hutchinson Wampoa have conveniently extricated themselves from the loss-making joint ownership of the Grand Bahama Airport, it falls upon the Government to undertake the massive task of rebuilding. The independent consultants that the Government hired some weeks ago called for a Public- Private - Partnership to be most practical solution. The estimate for the infrastructure alone, without the operating costs were some $200 million. Although the Minnis administration hinted that there was "considerable interest by a number of parties" I would surmise that was more political speak than reality, but I would be delighted to be proved wrong.
The stark reality is that the current facility is so enormously embarrassing, that arriving on Grand Bahama is a cringe-making experience. It's bad enough for residents (who no doubt have some knowledge of its history), but our tourists must wonder in which third world country they have landed. The tiny Immigration Hall is sad enough, but it's the Customs hall that is the biggest disaster. The bags are unloaded from the side of the 'building and placed by the baggage handlers behind a yellow line a few feet from the Customs benches. With the forty or so passengers from the Bahamas air flight I was on, the scene is one of chaos as everyone trips over each other to grab their bags and jostle in line for the Customs officials. With a large number of residents claiming exemptions or paying duty, the Customs officers (3) are overwhelmed. Surely visitors should be given preference rather than be part of this painful 45-minute experience. When you finally make it to the exit, it's a 25-yard walk to the road to hook up with any form of transportation. Good luck if it's raining- there is no cover. Should a 100-seat plane, or even bigger arrive, then this awful scenario is simply amplified tenfold. A tourist couple next to me grappling with this mayhem were shaking their heads in disbelief. How in 2021 (two years after hurricane Dorian) in the country's second largest city, can this be considered even vaguely acceptable. There are Family Island airports that have far better facilities than this train wreck. In the early 1970s Freeport's Immigration and Customs halls were far superior to what we have today.
There is considerable anger at the GBPA and global giant Hutchinson Wampoa to take two years to build this pathetic temporary facility before dumping it on the Bahamian taxpayer. The new administration has much work to do, but one can only hope that the airport is given urgent priority. Before a 'master plan' becomes a reality, it would make sense to quickly expand the existing space fourfold at the very least. As we approach the recovery of our tourism industry, this airport is a shocking first impression for visitors to our beautiful island, not to mention a monumental frustration for all those that live here. Prime Minister Davis, this cannot be ignored.
December 16, 2021.