LETTER: Our Airport Needs Urgent Help

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room
5 planes at VC Bird Airport

Dear Editor,

When Jamaica realized they had entered the big league in airports (with an s) they did not strut their managers internationally without oversight; instead they engaged the services of Vancouver Airports Authority to help upgrade their efforts from third world presentation to international standards.

Likewise British Virgin Islands is currently upgrading with the help of none other than our own Antiguan Miguel Southwell of Atlanta Airport fame.

Our own VCBIA has been under its own pressure with the new management coming into being almost at the same time as the pandemic, and having to learn on the job, they have been given accolades for their handling of the pandemic, but reality has now struck.

With less revenue and more expenses, most businesses are struggling, no less our airport which has equipment failure in all areas, from carrousels to escalators, mostly occasioned by the purchase of inferior brand equipment bought without proper advice. Unfortunately the VCBIA management team are not equipped to manage the Chinese built building with its constant issues, and the equipment which will have to be  replaced.

Our airport complains of being under financed, and as a consequence decisions are being made which contravene Security expectations, but this need not be so, because all airports are maintained by fees which are collected for services on the airport,  and on its owned lands within the perimeter fence.

Our airport tends to base its revenues on leases and a percentage of margins, whereas this is only a small part of the services which an airport offers. The many aircraft which arrive and depart Antigua without paying adequately for services received can only be blamed on the wrong focus of our airport management.

The time has come for our government to recognize that an airport is a commercial exercise which is expected to exploit all areas of the economy especially on a small tourist island. VCBIA needs help, and our Ministry of Aviation needs to wise up to the fact that Airport Management is learned on the job as most airports in the Caribbean have done.

This has been mostly via Air Traffic Control (ATC) and Aeronautical Information Services (AIS) or through Ground Services and Airport Management courses at University and Aviation Educational Services.

If Antigua continues to slide in its services at our one airport, how are we going to control movement and security in an additional airport in Barbuda. Aviation is not an industry to be casual about, and the state accepts great responsibility when it operates an international airport. Accepting that aviation is a most competitive industry, it behoves the management of any airport to establish an unbiased and competent atmosphere devoid of protection and monopolies.

The time has come for the Ministry of Aviation to recommend that a team from a recognizable aviation organization like Vancouver Airports Authority, or our friends in the Government of Mexico to provide an assistance package to our airport similar to their exercise in Barbados.

Clearly our management team needs help, the shell of the Chinese built airport still looks new and pretty, but already the interior and the equIpment and fixtures need maintenance, and in some pieces total replacement. The management must receive support from a knowledgeable and experienced airport management source.

Finally, for the past 20 years VCBIA has failed to implement ICAO Safety standards on all areas of the airport. There are parts of the airport where the activity would fail any risk assessment inspection, because the airport seems to be ignorant of the ICAO expectation, or alternately as is permitted by developing nations, to Register a Difference with ICAO.

This Registration is required to advise all users of the airport of the Safety Standard replacing the Regulation. This is the level of help which is needed if our airport is expected to compete on the level of efficiency demanded by International Regulatory Authorities, especially as the Permanent Secretary of Aviation no longer has any authority over the management of the airport.

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