The Bahamas' aviation director highlighted this nation's drive to construct climate resilient and environmentally-sustainable airports during a recent Caribbean infrastructure summit.
Dr Kenneth Romer, deputy director-general in the Ministry of Tourism, Investments & Aviation, told the Caribbean Infrastructure Forum: “Environmental concerns top our list at the moment, as it relates to the intensity of hurricanes and natural disasters and the threat they pose.
“But, I think, we have an opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the region how serious and committed we are to supporting the message of sustainability that our prime minister has really been taking around the world. So, it’s time to put our money and our plans where our mouth is.”
Grand Bahama and its international airport sustained major damage during Hurricane Dorian's passage in September 2019. Dr Romer called the experience an “opportunity” to change they way airports are built throughout The Bahamas, with the nation becoming a "green" airport pioneer.
“We need to look at solar power for our airports,” Dr Romer said. “We need to look at green energy, we need to look at green airfields, we need to look at reducing the size of our physical infrastructure, while taking advantage of the kinds of assistance the international community can give us when we model what sustainable airports look like in the region.”
Dr Rafael Echevarne, Airports Council International director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said there is an opportunity for the region to lead the way in sustainable and climate resilient airports.
“There are a lot of things that airports can do to reduce their impact on the environment in relation to the emission of carbon dioxide,” Dr Echevarne said. “One of the great opportunities, from my point of view, is that the smaller airports in the Caribbean have a huge opportunity to generate electricity with solar.
"There are many airports, which we know, that can be self-sustainable when it comes to power being generated from solar. It’s a question of just doing the studies and allowing these airports to not only install solar, but sell the excess power to the grid. That is actually in the works for several airports within the region already.
“The airports in the Caribbean can be the pioneers in this aspect. If there is something we are sure of in the Caribbean, there is sun and wind. There are definitely huge opportunities. Right now, the cost of installing solar panels has come down dramatically and considering the cost of energy, I don’t think it’s a difficult decision to make.”
Leveraging private capital via blue/green bond issues in island economies, and using technology to maximise the functionality, were also topics of discussion.
Filipe Pereira dos Reis, regional director of Airport Passenger, Cargo and Security of the Americas, said there must be short and long-term plans for the airports and projects to adequately address sustainable infrastructure.
“The challenge with short-term and long-term is that governments typically have a mandate of four to six years, depending on their term,” he said. “But we have to realise that our business [aviation] is a long-term business. So, it’s an infrastructural investment business which typically gets depreciated in 30, 40, 50 years. So there needs to be a balance.
"We understand the needs of the government in looking for funding in the short-term, but at the same time we would wish that governments would look into the longer term. Why? Because we are a firm believer that the spin-off effects, economically speaking, of the businesses that we have, pay way more than looking at the short-term.”
CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank and KPMG served as the title sponsors for New Energy’s CARIF 2023 conference.