Maintain value of $34m airport upgrade contract


Tribune Business Reporter


AN EXUMA businessman yesterday said The Bahamas must do better at maintaining its infrastructure after a $34m contract was signed to upgrade the island’s international airport

Ramon Darville, Darville Lumber’s general manager, told Tribune Business “it does not make any sense” to spend such money on Exuma International Airport if the facility does not receive annual maintenance once the work is completed.

He spoke after Ministry of Works yesterday awarded Bahamas Hot Mix (BHM) a $34.245m contract for airside construction works at the airport, which includes rehabilitation works for aircraft aprons, taxiways and the runway; new taxiway installation; fencing and drainage; lighting and electrical; navigational aids and runway markings.

Mr Darville said: “I don’t know how many people they intend to hire for this project, but we definitely need to keep some of them on for maintenance after the work is done. That’s all I’m going to say. If you are going to spend $34m, but five years later you have nothing......

“We have a lot of planes coming in here and the airport was getting very crowded. With this new airport we will have a lot of people coming down here now. We have a lot of second homeowners coming in and a lot of tourists. This is a big boost for the island, and now we also are expecting British Airways to come in here, too, along with Delta and American Airlines.”

O’Brian Strachan, owner/ operator of Strachan’s Service Station, said of the $34m contract award: “They have to get it started now, or else it is just talk. This is good news if this contract is going to start. We need to get this airport moving; we need to get this started. We’ve needed this airport for a while now. This island has outgrown this old airport a long while ago, and this new airport is a great enhancement for the island.”

The Hon. Alfred Sears, Minister of Works and Utilities, led the signing ceremony in the conference room of the Ministry of Works and Utilities (MOWU) JFK. Among others, the contract includes pavement rehabilitation works for apron, taxiways and runway, new taxiway installation, fencing and drainage, lighting and electrical, navigational aids and runway markings.

Representatives from various agencies attended the ceremony including Luther Smith and Reginald Saunders, Permanent Secretaries; George Hutcheson and Dr. Kenneth Romer, Directors; Charlene Collie, project engineer and members of the Project Execution Unit of the MOWU; officials from the MOWU, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation (MOTIA), the Ministry of Finance, Integrated Building Services, the Department of Aviation, the Airport Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority.

The contract awarded to Bahamas Hot Mix is part of the Government’s drive to upgrade airport infrastructure throughout the Family Islands. The airports at North Eleuthera, Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay, Abaco, are also scheduled to receive upgrades as part of efforts to improve air transport connectivity and the flow of tourists to the Family Islands while also making critical infrastructure assets climate resilient.

Besides improving operating procedures, safety management, emergency response plans and the Bahamas Airport Authority’s internal capabilities, the redevelopment works will also raise the selected airports to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards.

Alfred Sears KC, minister of public works and utilities, said at the Hot Mix contract signing that the works are being financed with an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan. “The Family Island air transport infrastructure is in need of improvements to comply with international aviation standards, and to achieve a resilient stock of infrastructure against climate change,” he said.

“The IDB supports this improvement process given the bank’s experience in air transport infrastructure.” Mr Sears said Exuma International Airport was in need of investment and requires a wide range of upgrades. He added that security deficiencies, including visual aids, lighting and marking, mobile equipment, the layout of the runaway, apron and taxiways, impose a risk to the operation and compromises new air traffic demand.

“The airports face challenges to meet the ICAO safety and security standards, and to respond to events related to climate change. Such events require action in order to maintain certification by the Bahamian Civil Aviation Authority, to guarantee safety for passengers and crew, and keep the operation of this transport mode. Delayed implementation of these measures could also have an adverse impact on future traffic flows and the economy,” Mr Sears said.

“For the country to have a strong market presence in the competitive Caribbean tourism industry, it is crucial that the island gateway airports offer the highest possible level of safety and quality of aviation infrastructure and services. The need for these improvements are evident according to traffic demands, various analyses performed having identified and prioritised these required investments, and the revenues and costs expected from each airport.”

Redevelopment work is expected to begin on Cat Island’s New Bight airport shortly, while Grand Bahama International Airport’s rehabilitation will take the form of a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement that is supposed to be announced shortly. Emergency paving will be undertaken at the North Eleuthera airport before redevelopment begins.

Integrated Building Services (IBS), led by Nick Dean, is the contractor for the airside works, construction and contract administration of the works at North Eleuthera. Charlene Collie, project engineer, said designs for the airport in North Eleuthera are expected to be completed within the 2023 third quarter with the aim of launching a bidding process for the work before year-end 2023.

Ms Collie said the Ministry of Works and Utilities is aware of daily “challenges” on the North Eleuthera runway. She indicated that the remedial works for Eleuthera will last around three to four years while major infrastructure works are undertaken.

“Eleuthera is slated to have a new runway further to the right of the existing runway. The existing runway will convert into a parallel taxiway with several taxiways joining runway to apron. That’s all under design for the second quarter of 2024 earliest,” she said.

Dr Kenneth Romer, the Ministry of Tourism’s acting aviation director, said Exuma is poised to become the hub for the central and southern Bahamas, and there have always been “very aggressive” plans to ensure it is properly developed both on the airside and the landside.

“Exuma is one of the islands that has exceeded pre-pandemic airlift and pre-pandemic seat capacity levels. Exuma is on the rise, and investment in the infrastructure further supports our mandate to increase tourism,” he added.

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