STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
DURING THE FIFTH SITTING OF THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
THURSDAY, 20th February, 2020
Update on BVI Airports Authority
Mister Speaker, the Board of Directors of the BVI Airports Authority (BVIAA) has developed a vision to ensure that the air service delivery to the territory is both enhanced and increased, which ties into the overall vision of the Government of the Virgin Islands.
Since the beginning of 2020, the Board, together with the Management and Staff of the Authority, has been working tirelessly to ensure that its vision bear fruits during the 2020 calendar year. They have been working to build capacity and revenue generation capability, improve service delivery, and to increase the airlift access for Virgin Islanders, residents and visitors.
This will greatly enhance the inbound and outbound logistics for our tourism and business sectors upon which our 2020 Budget and medium-to-long-term vision is premised.
Permit me to provide an update on the work that has been done by the BVIAA, and the Authority’s plans, since my last report to this Honourable House in December of last year.
New Systems and Initiatives
The BVIAA continues to strive towards self-reliance with the continued implementation of a number of initiatives geared towards improving reliability of systems, improving revenue streams, reducing losses and improving regulatory compliance. The new systems and initiatives include:
- Implementation of the In-transit lounge,
- Imminent completion of the CIP lounge,
- Lifting of the Single Engine restriction at the Taddy Bay International Airport
- Emergency Response Training,
- Imminent Implementation of the EASE system,
- the purchase of two Oshkosh Fire Appliance, and
- implementation of maintenance tracking software.
- 138 passengers have used the in-transit lounge since it was opened on 1 February, 2020. Mister Speaker, I repeat 138 passengers have used the in-transit lounge since it was opened on 1 February, 2020. It has been operating smoothly with no reported hitches or security breaches.
Mister Speaker, this is a classic example of the BVIAA making maximum use of what they already have to increase the Authority’s revenue generation without heavy spending, and for this initiative the Board and management of the BVIAA must be commended. The Authority repurposed a previously underutilised space to create this in-transit lounge.
With growing frequency, airlines are using our airport at Beef Island as a transit hub to other Caribbean airports. Air passengers who are transiting through the TB Lettsome International Airport to catch connecting flights to their final destination in other countries will utilize this facility to make their connections. Transiting passengers are charged a $10 levy which is attached to the cost of their ticket.
Airline operators are already indicating that the in-transit lounge is impacting positively on the experience of transiting passengers and this will encourage growth in this aspect of our airport business.
Further improvements to cover the walkway leading up to the lounge are planned to better cater to in-transit passengers during, for example, adverse weather conditions.
- The Commercially Important Person (CIP) lounge is 95% complete and is expected to open its doors to the public on 15 March, 2020. The space has amenities such as a mini bar, conference room and seating for up to 21 persons and is part of the BVIAA’s drive to improve the product at the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport.
Again, the BVIAA has repurposed previously underutilized space to create this revenue earning facility. Passengers who desire to use the CIP lounge will pay a fee to use it.
Lounges of this type are common features in most modern airports. They improve passenger experience and significantly boost revenue.
- Since 3 February 2020, BVIAA has been conducting training with PAHO in emergency care and treatment, Mass Casualty Management and Incident Command. Seventy-five persons have been trained in these areas from the Air Traffic Services Unit, Operations Department, Security Unit, Rescue and Fire Fighting Unit. Members of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force are also taking part in the training. The training will be used to jumpstart a complete review of the BVIAA’s emergency response procedures to ensure that current techniques are relevant and effective.
- Work has begun at the Oshkosh Facility is Wisconsin USA on two new fire appliances. We expect that the Oshkosh Global Strikers will arrive in BVI in December 2020. This will also improve the safety at our airport and prevent interruption in operations as occurred last year due to the condition of our aged units.
- At the end of January, BVIAA installed new maintenance software from Prodigiq a company based in Silicon Valley, California. The software is being used to better track maintenance issues at the airport and the time and resources needed to fix them. This data will then be used to determine where resources need to be allocated or what equipment needs to be replaced to reduce the maintenance issues at the Aerodrome.
By being able to identify and track maintenance and to take a preventative maintenance approach, the BVIAA will be able to save cost and improve operating efficiency, while improving our customer service.
- BVIAA is working with Amadeus install a new check-in system in the upcoming weeks. The new system will allow the airport to be able to accommodate more airlines at once. It will also help current airlines to expand or reduce the amount of ticket counters that they use depending on the volume of passengers being checked in.
One of the main benefits of this improvement is that it will allow airlines to more efficiently check-in passengers, reduce the time passengers spend standing in line and giving them more time to patronise the concessionaires’ businesses.
Lifting of Single Engine Restriction at Virgin Gorda Airport
A single engine aircraft restriction was placed on the Virgin Gorda Airport by the then Director of Civil Aviation (DCA) Mr. Basil Fleming in 1964, that was before I was born, and remained in effect since. High cross winds associated with operations into the Airport was identified as the primary reason why single engine operations were not allowed. Following conversations with the Regulator, Air Safety Support International (ASSI), as well as an in-house assessment by the Authority’s Operations team, a decision was made to lift the restriction following a request by Tropic Ocean Airways to operate flights into Virgin Gorda.
On the instructions of the Regulators, a series of familiarisations/test flights were conducted on 5 February, 2020, to determine if in-fact the aircraft and crew were capable of operating into the Airport. Mr. Cleo Hodge, an FAA designated Examiner and Pilot well versed with the Aerodrome and its operations, was selected to conduct the flights. Mr. Hodge confirmed that he was satisfied with the competence of the flight crew and the performance of the aircraft.
The Board of Directors held an emergency meeting where a resolution was approved to allow for the Accountable Manager to put the necessary measures in place to have the restrictions on single engine aircraft operations into the Virgin Gorda Airport lifted. The resolution also instructed the Accountable Manager to liaise directly with the Insurance provider to ensure that the requisite insurance coverage is in place for single engine operations.
The BVIAA expects that at least one other carrier will be added to the list of approved carriers that operate into the Airport as a result of the restriction being lifted by the end of March, 2020.
Paving of Virgin Gorda Runway
With respect to the paving of the runway at the Virgin Gorda airport, the Authority published an Request For Proposal (RFP) for the solicitation of companies for this work. The paving of the runway will expand the scope of Aircraft that currently use the Aerodrome which could make flights from the US mainland to Virgin Gorda a reality.
The Chairman of the BVI Airports Authority along with the Chairman of the BVI Tourist Board and the Managing Director have commenced meetings with two airlines currently operating in the Territory to ascertain which additional routes can be had as a result of the runway being paved.
The Board is also actively considering the renaming of the Virgin Gorda Airport after a deserving Virgin Gordian to commemorate the enhancements to the airport subsequent to the paving of the runway, of course with the public input. A matrix will be developed going forward to select a person to whom the honour will be bestowed. It must be noted at the other two airports in the territory are named after deserving citizens.
Night Flights (Auguste George, Anegada)
Night flights are still not allowed into the Auguste George International Airport in Anegada. But we expect to lift this restriction in the very near future, further opening up the potential for economic opportunities on the Sister Island.
The roadmap for resumption of these flights has been developed and the required improvements have been identified or procured but are not yet in place.
- backup generator;
- additional runway lights
- airport beacon
- staff training in night operations
Based on the established timeline the completion of the changes agreed with the Regulator will not be completed until April. The delay is due largely to the arrival of runway lights from Belgium.
Once these upgrades are completed, it will significantly increase the airlift opportunities to Anegada and increase connectivity to the Sister Island, facilitating increased volume of visitor arrivals and this will benefit the hotels, earning opportunities for taxi drivers and tour guides, and create additional jobs due to increased demand for services in Anegada.
An eight (8) member team from Caribbean Airlines (CAL) visited the BVI from 29 January to 1 February, 2020, on a Fact-Finding Tour, with a view to exploring expansion of their network to include Tortola using their ATR fleet. The first stop on the tour witnessed a presentation of their intention to the Honourable Premier of the Virgin Islands, the Financial Secretary, the Board of Directors of the BVI Airports Authority and other key stakeholders essential to realising operations in the Territory.
Discussions are ongoing between CAL and the various Government Agencies and key stakeholders, including the BVIAA, as the airline has indicated it must take into consideration the regulatory framework and requirements of the respective Territories.
May I say that this is a positive step in our mission to improve airlift access for Virgin Islanders, residents and visitors. Through the grace of God, your Government and the BVIAA are optimistic that our efforts to improve the Territory’s airlift access will be successful.
Mister Speaker, in terms of LIAT’s interest in the BVI as a market and as a connection hub for air travel is very high, given your Government’s vision, as expressed in the 2020 Budget Address.
On 22 January, 2020, a two (2) Member delegation from LIAT met with the Board of Directors of the BVIAA to discuss the airline’s continuing relationship with the BVI.
One of the areas discussed was that of the BVI being able to advise LIAT on preferred routes that we wish for the LIAT to operate. The Board, at that meeting advised LIAT that they are interested in a route between Beef Island and San Juan along with the re-introduction of the overnight flight from Beef Island.
LIAT has promised to investigate both requests and revert to the Board.
Hangars (Terence B Lettsome)
Mister Speaker, in terms of hanger services are a lucrative source of aeronautical revenue for airports. The BVIAA is moving to capitalise on this opportunity.
AVIA NG Airport Consultants have been contracted to redesign the hanger layout at Beef Island. They are on track to submit their preliminary draft report on 28 February, 2020, at which point the design will be reviewed and the completed draft will be resubmitted shortly thereafter.
Phase One of this work has been completed. This includes the following Data Collection and Field Work tasks:
- Collect and review background information,
- Project kick-off and initiation meeting,
- Site inspection and visual assessment,
- Geotechnical investigation and report, and
- Site topography.
Phase Two is in progress as follows:
- Pavement design and recommendations – 75% complete,
- Preliminary design drawings – 75% complete,
- Construction cost estimates – initiated, and
- Preliminary design report initiated.
After completion and costing of the plan a decision will then be made as to the method of financing the project.
Hung Lands – Beef Island
Mister Speaker, permit me to take this closing statement and opportunity to say a few words on the issue of the so-called “Hung Lands”, as I know this is a matter that many persons are interested in.
On April 24, 1995, a Non-Belonger’s Land Holding License was granted to Quorum Island (BVI) Limited, a private Limited Liability Company, under the signature of the then Governor Peter Alfred Penfold, for five parcels of land situated at Beef Island, Bellamy Cay and Little Cay totaling about 669 acres. The deed was registered at the Land Registry on 10 July, 1995.
This license was for the development of a five-star hotel and a first-class 18-hole golf course on the said lands, subject to conditions as follows:
- Subject to planning approval, a capital outlay of at least US$10.75 million was to be spent to complete all elements of the First Phase of the development project within five to seven years from the grant of the license.
- The golf course would be constructed on Beef Island, at a cost of US$3 million to US$5 million, during the First Phase and the timetable for construction would be subject to the availability of water in the area.
- Work would commence within one year from the grant of the license.
- The license is not transferrable and is operative only by Quorum Island (BVI) Limited.
- The land cannot be subdivided, sold or otherwise disposed of without the prior written approval of the Governor.
It is a fact that no such development was done on the said lands.
The BVIAA has appointed a Special Committee to negotiate the re-acquisition of the property. The Committee has begun discussions with representatives of Mr Hung towards this purpose. Discussions are ongoing and at a sensitive stage.
I will provide this Honourable House with further details as the matter progresses.
Mister Speaker, in conclusion by increasing the airlift capacity, passenger experience and passenger volume, we will increase the economic opportunities for our Virgin Islands people, from our hotels and bed and breakfast providers, to our food and catering, bars, taxi drivers, and tour operators, so that they can earn more money to provide for themselves and their families.
Mister Speaker, I want to sincerely congratulate and thank the BVIAA Board, Management and Staff for their hard work, the benefits of which will redound to the benefit of Virgin Islanders for a long time to come.