Flights from the continental United States to Virgin Gorda could be a reality in the near future with the completion of renovations to the Taddy Bay Airport, Premier Andrew Fahie said last Thursday during the year’s first House of Assembly meeting.
The premier also touched on changes to the territory’s other airports and related initiatives that he said could bring more flights to the territory.
In October the BVI Airports Authority published a request for proposals to pave the airport runway at Virgin Gorda. According to the RFP document, the contractor would be responsible for producing a 3,100-foot uniform runway surface that maintains good friction even in the rain and would last for at least 20 years.
Mr. Fahie said paving the runway could allow more types of aircraft to use the facility, possibly allowing for nonstop flights from the US. He did not offer a potential timeline for establishing these flights, though the RFP required proposals be submitted by Nov. 18, 2019.
Mr. Fahie said leaders from the BVIAA and BVI Tourist Board are meeting with two airlines currently operating in the territory to determine what routes could be added by paving the runway.
VG reg lifted
Directors also recently approved relaxing some regulations at the VG airport, Mr. Fahie said.
Since 1964, the airport has not allowed single-engine planes to fly there, a restriction implemented by then-Director of Civil Aviation Basil Fleming, he explained.
The main concern was high cross winds that make landing at the airport challenging, Mr. Fahie said.
“Following conversations with the regulator, Air Safety Support International, as well as 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,” Mr. Fahie said.
The premier said airport regulators, headed by US Federal Aviation Administration-designated examiner and pilot Cleo Hodge, led a series of flight tests on Feb. 5 to determine if it would be possible to safely land at the airport.
“Mr. Hodge confirmed that he was satisfied with the competence of the flight crew and the performance of the aircraft,” Mr. Fahie said.
The BVIAA board of directors approved lifting the restriction during an emergency meeting, and instructed the accountable manager to get the required insurance coverage in place for single-engine operations, Mr. Fahie said. He added that the BVIAA expects to add at least one more approved carrier at the VG airport as the restrictions are lifted by the end of next month.
The airport might also get a new name. Mr. Fahie said the board is actively considering renaming the Taddy Bay Airport after a “deserving Virgin Gordian” to celebrate the renovations. Public input, he added, is welcome.
Government is also in discussions with other airlines that officials hope will add flights to the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Beef Island.
Representatives from the Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines Limited conducted a fact- finding tour of the VI this month, which will inform their coming decision about expanding their network to include the territory in their ATR fleet’s flights, Mr. Fahie said.
“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,” he said.
The premier said LIAT also has a “very high” interest in expanding its presence in the VI. During discussions last month with the BVIAA board of directors, representatives from the regional airline explored a potential new route between Beef Island and San Juan, in addition to bringing back night flights from Beef Island, he premier said.
Though night flights are still not allowed at the Auguste George International Airport in Anegada, Mr. Fahie said he expects to lift the restriction in the “very near future,” as soon as April.
“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,” Mr. Fahie said.
The airport needs to procure a backup generator, additional runway lights, an airport beacon and staff training in night operations before it can allow night flights.
“Once these upgrades are completed, it will significantly increase the airlift opportunities to Anegada and increase connectivity to the sister island,” he said, describing economic incentives.
The premier also provided updates on recent improvements to the airport on Beef Island.
A lounge for “commercially important persons” is nearly complete, Mr. Fahie said, and the airport plans to open it to the public on March 15.
Amenities include a mini bar, conference room and seating for 21 people. Passengers can access the lounge for a fee.
The premier also reported that 138 passengers have used the new in-transit lounge at the airport since it opened Feb. 1. The facility serves passengers transitioning through the airport to catch connecting flights to their final destination in other countries, and the BVIAA collects a $10 levy from transitioning passengers’ tickets. He said there have been no reported hitches or security breaches to date.
The airport plans to make further additions, including a covered walkway leading to the lounge.
Mr. Fahie said making improvements to the territory’s airports for tourism and business interests is an important part of the territory’s 2020 budget and long-term vision.