Thursday, 03 November 2011 02:30
By Alex Holder
Antigua St John's - The long-awaited construction project for the new VC Bird International Airport terminal has finally been commissioned, with the official turning of the soil at the new construction site beside the existing terminal on Wednesday.
The US$40 M project will stand some 60 percent larger than the existing terminal, with construction expected to begin in December and run for two years and compete at 16,450 sq m of 70,000 sq ft.
China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) will handle the overall project construction, with 30 percent of the overall investment funneled into the local economy through the employment of local contractors and other services.
The new terminal will be fully air conditioned with elevators, escalators and stairs connecting the relevant levels and areas, and will come complete with jet bridges, 15 extra duty free shops, two VIP lounges, and amplified security and immigration personnel, along with an increased number of airlines and airline counters.
Bernard T Lewis, engineering consultant with the Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority (ABAA), chaired Wednesday’s event.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer labelled the day a great and momentous one. “What better birthday gift for the 30th birthday of our nation… There is much to celebrate,” he said. He described the new terminal as a sign of prosperity.
According to Vice President of CCECC Zaho Zhongning, “It is with your confidence and trust that we have the opportunity to undertake this project of grand scale and great significance…”
Speaking through a translator, the VP said the new terminal will stand as a historical landmark in the decision-making process of the country, and will serve as a boost to the economy, the construction industry, and other aspects of the country while serving its intended purpose as a gem in the region and international aviation industry.
Further, he noted that the initiative comes as a notable indicator of the bond between the People’s Republic of China and Antigua & Barbuda the first Eastern Caribbean nation to recognise it as a sovereign state.
Chairman of the ABAA and acting CEO Gatesworth M James reminded that the project had come after years of negotiations and dedication from both sides.
"I am proud of what we are about to embark upon,” he said, pointing out that it was Non-Resident Ambassador to China David Shoul “a man of extraordinary strength and courage” who is to be credited for Wednesday’s milestone marking.
He said the new facility would not by a long shot hold any substandard products in any way, shape, or form.
“Antigua will be the benefit of a world-class terminal… This is our airport… I am pleased… We will have this dream come through,” he said.
Moreover, Shoul spoke of the particulars of the multi-million-dollar agreement. He said although the new building will be smaller than initially planned, it would be a notable addition to the existing 30 year old terminal, which will be left to house the meteorology unit and other departments.
“I am humbled to carry on my family’s legacy of increasing Antigua & Barbuda’s tourism product,” Shoul said.
He noted too there were a lot of roadblocks along the way to Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony, as well as political and other personalities who fought tirelessly to see the project not materialize.
“Let us forget the partisan politics… learn to show sensitivity,” he urged.
He said the project is a substantial one, from which negotiations have managed to ensure that 30 percent of the overall budget stays within the local economy, since it is standard that projects like these require 100 percent Chinese participation.
“Is this harming the interest of the people or safeguarding the interest of the people?” Shoul asked.
He noted also that 30 percent of the overall sum will be interest free from repayment, while management and construction fees will respectively drop from 0.9 percent to 0.3 percent and 0.8 percent and to 0.2.5 percent.
Ambassador Shoul noted too that the new facility will be open to facilitate the potential 500,000 Chinese visitors that stand to visit Antigua & Barbuda at the project’s end.
Furthermore, Tourism, Civil Aviation, and Culture Minister John Maginley said the project would stand as the gateway to Antigua & Barbuda, and undoubtedly the first and last impression for visitors.
Maginley said the project’s design is equally as important as its operations and personnel, as they all go hand in hand in making the airport “practical” in the senses of flexibility and tranquility all of which has been achieved.
“The new airport is no longer a dream,” said Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China Liu Hanming. “The local economy will be brought back to the fast track.”