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Capt. Patrick Rolle, former director at Bahamas Civil Aviation, addressing the audience on the Bahamas Government's plans for Private Public Partnership at the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport on Dec. 22. The meeting was held to gather feedback regarding a Private Public Partnership for Abaco’s two airports in relation to compliance gaps and creating a sustainable, economic model.

Private-Public Partnership Plans Discussed for Abaco’s Two Airports

The Ministry of Transport and Aviation facilitated a meeting for all airport stakeholders, workers, industry partners and interested persons at the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport’s Domestic Arrival Lounge on Dec. 22.

The purpose of the meeting was to advise and gather feedback regarding the Bahamas Government’s plans for Private Public Partnership for the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport and the Treasure Cay International Airport.

In attendance was Mr. Charles Albury, undersecretary for the Ministry of Transport and Aviation. Albury was accompanied by Capt. Patrick Rolle, CEO and aviation consultant for Introspect, and former director at Bahamas Civil Aviation.

As the first speaker, Albury spoke about compliance measures for safe operations that will be put in place for airports in the country. In total, there are 56 airports in The Bahamas with 28 airports interspersed throughout the Family Islands.

In 2010, the government entered into a $50 million loan agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to reform the air transport sector. The first $15 million was used to acquire a new air traffic control radar and simulator for the Lynden Pindling International Airport. The balance of that funding was used to acquire security screening equipment for select Family Island airports for the restructuring of the Bahamas Civil Aviation Department.

Based on the Stantec report they received, all airports are placed in a three-tier system, which determines their ranking and what has to be met in terms of compliance. Terminal redevelopment was discussed along with health and safety issues that need to be addressed.

The Leonard M. Thompson International Airport falls under Tier 1, which refers to airports with port of entry status that are gateways to Family Islands, and provide economic opportunity to be sustainable.

Treasure Cay International Airport is categorized as Tier 3, which are airports that provide domestic services only and limited traffic that requires local coordination with the island administrator for daily inspections and maintenance.

Next, Albury determined how long it would take to correct all deficiencies and compliance issues. The short-term outlook covers 2017-2019, mid-term from 2020-2030, and long-term from 2031-2042.

Stantec’s land-side assessment focused on the overall condition and state of repair of each airport; the activity level and category of each airport (i.e. port of entry) that will determine the programming space needed; health and safety issues for staff and the travelling public; energy programming modification for improved operating performance; and parking and landside facilities that are not part of the passenger facility.

The technical assessment determined, however, that to redevelop the airports and address the airside compliance gaps, the government requires approximately $180 million, which was broken down to indicate the amount of funding needed for airside compliance and landside capital costs and mobile equipment for Tier 1, 2 and 3 airports.

The report recommended that the government consider either addressing 100 percent of the compliance gaps for safe operations; implementing a strategy for transferring; leasing and or closing certain airports and phases in capital spending of $108 million with $34 million to aggressively invest in airports and tourism strategy; or addressing the two top levels of priority for each airport including fire- fighting equipment and defer capital spending on pavements and facilities while looking to secure additional contracting options for specific airports.

Alternatively, ALG conducted a two-phase approach. In Phase 1, the goal was to understand the market dynamics and business opportunities for all Tier 1 and 2 airports, conduct a market assessment and initial demand, review infrastructure development plans, state their preliminary financial assumptions, and select the most feasible options for those airports.

In Phase 2, ALG focused on the airports that showed the higher potential in attracting private investors therefore a detailed market and traffic forecast were conducted along with an independent verification of Capex. Additionally, an environmental strategic assessment, financial model of the concession and teaser for potential private investors were also carried out.

So far, the government has completed a new terminal building with new apron markings installed for new aircrafts that are providing services to the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport. At the Moore’s Island Airport, a surveyor has been contracted to provide the cadastral and topographical survey to lengthen the runway, taxiway and identify and space for a new terminal building. Similar works were carried out on other islands.

The next steps for the government to leverage the financing required to redevelop Family Islands airports was to approach the IDB for technical support to determine the feasibility of Family Island Airports for Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements.

The IDB consequently secured the services of ALG, which is a Transportation Infrastructure and Logistics consultant company, to conduct a pre-feasibility (technical and financial) assessment of Tier 1 and Tier 2 airports to identify potential airports that could attract investment through a PPP scheme, and to develop a financial model for the selected airport(s) and concession alternative.

In his remarks, Capt. Rolle stated that The Bahamas’ tourism market ranks fifth in the Caribbean. Family Island airports contribute 10 percent of international travel, while they account for 40 percent of domestic travel. Moreover, Family Island traffic is expected to grow at 2.7 percent until 2042.

He added that foreign airlines account for 80 percent of international seat supply, North American accounts for over 90 percent of the overall traffic in The Bahamas, and Euromonitor expects tourism to The Bahamas to grow at the rate of 2.9 percent.

As a result of ALG’s findings in Phase 1, the government is now considering a program to redevelop four airports: North Eleuthera; Moss Town, Exuma; Treasure Cay and Leonard M. Thompson International Airport.

Therefore, airport development plans and capital expenditure for the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport would run at a cost of $16.7 million for maintenance and expansion of its facilities over the next 25 years, and $8.2 million for Treasure Cay to ensure ICAD compliance with no additional capacity because the airport is expected to handle only general aviation and occasional charter flights.

More information was given to outline the route network to and from Marsh Harbour as well all operating airlines with Bahamasair as the main airline, while historical evolution and traffic date were provided for Treasure Cay International Airport.

Capt. Rolle explained that despite the impressive numbers of passengers coming to The Bahamas, it was becoming evident that visitors were coming to a country where many of our airports could not facilitate high-end customers. Most people responded that the airports in The Bahamas were okay, but not outstanding.

This, he said, was the genesis of getting Stantec representatives in to address this problem.

“The best impact would be having the right environment to meet the standard that the world is demanding,” Capt. Rolle said. “Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma have the greatest potential for returns on investment.”

He suggested that we need to design airports that are unique to the culture of The Bahamas that will attract people to stay and see what we are offering here. With that said, Treasure Cay is included in Leonard M. Thompson International Airport Development because the greatest potential for growth exists in Treasure Cay, so Treasure Cay’s airport is complimentary to Marsh Harbour’s.

Investors also began questioning what more they could do because they could not get the people they want to The Bahamas because of existing conditions of the airports.

In a few days, Capt. Rolle said the government plans to hit the ground running with Marsh Harbour’s developmental layout. He said that they are also advocating that it be made an instrument-approach airport. Interviews are being conducted to fill the control tower with personnel, however Albury said the prospective employees will be trained for one year before being allowed to work in the control tower. There are plans to acquire four Doppler radar systems to be installed at designated aiports.

“The government is taking this very seriously, and they are not too far behind,” Capt. Rolle assured. “We are trying to get the message across that we can fix it.

“We still have one of the best countries that will attract people from other parts of the world.”

The meeting ended with a question and answer session.

About Canishka Alexander

Canishka Alexander was born in New Providence, but spent most of her childhood years on Abaco. She earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Abilene Christian University.

Although she has accomplished many things in life, her greatest accomplishment is being a mother to her four children. She loves God, her country and people of all cultures.

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