airport meeting
Public officials and private-sector stakeholders attended a closed-door meeting on Aug. 18 to discuss the government’s plan to expand the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport. The meeting was not open to the public or the media. (Photo: GIS)

The government hosted a stakeholder meeting on Aug. 18 to discuss its plan to expand the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport.

But the public and the media weren’t invited.

“This initial meeting was the first stakeholder consultation meeting,” Chief Information Officer Desiree Smith told the Beacon. “The invitees consisted of a cross-section of government departments and agencies and key private-sector stakeholders and industry partners.”

Ms. Smith did not list the invitees or say how they were chosen, but she said that public meetings about the expansion plan — which has long sparked controversy in the community — will be held “at a later stage.”

“At the moment, the Ministry [of Communications and Works] is conducting the preliminary works, like reviewing and updating existing plans and previous feasibility studies, business cases, Environmental Impact Assessments, etc.,” Ms. Smith told the Beacon.

airport meeting attendees
Government did not explain how it selected the stakeholders invited to the Aug. 18 meeting, but it did provide three photos of the session, including the above. (Photo: GIS)
Press release

The Aug. 18 meeting was not broadcast, and Ms. Smith said notes from the session will be shared only with attendees.

The government, however, did issue a press release on Tuesday broadly describing the meeting.

Attendees, the release stated, included “stakeholders and a diverse group of industry partners from a wide cross-section of the public service and the private sector, the tourism and hospitality industry.”

The release added that the “visioning meeting” was chaired by MCW Permanent Secretary Elvia Smith-Maduro, who presented a timeline on previous attempts to start the expansion project and various “roadblocks” that stalled it.

Also at the meeting, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley thanked CW Minister Kye Rymer and his team for organising the session and stressed the importance of investing in the territory’s tourism product, the release stated.

“When we look to the expansion of our economy, we have to look towards tourism and certainly this government, and whenever I have the opportunity I speak to the fact that we have to develop tourism and invest more in tourism,” he said, adding, “We cannot take a passive approach that if they want to come they will come. We have to put ourselves in the best possible position for our economy to grow and to develop. One of the major things that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will thank us for is expanding this runway.”

airport meeting
The Aug. 18 meeting was attended by officials including (from left) Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer, Junior Minister for Tourism and Culture Luce Hodge-Smith, and BVI Airports Authority Managing Director Kurt Menal. (Photo: GIS)
‘Well under way’

Mr. Rymer also spoke at the meeting, explaining that his ministry is already “well under way in contacting the relevant authorities” involved in the expansion plan, according to the release.

“I know these conversations wouldn’t be the first for some of you,” he said. “But after being given the mandate of extending the runway publicly, I thought it was important that we have this dialogue and engage the stakeholders on how to move forward with the airport expansion.”

He thanked his permanent secretary for her recent work on the project.

“We have already engaged the Attorney General’s Chambers and other stakeholders in terms of moving this project forward,” Mr. Rymer said. “But it’s time for us to get to the wider populace so that we can further these discussions.”


Plans for expanding the airport have been floated for more than a decade.

The proposal has long drawn criticism from some residents who argue that a longer runway would adversely affect the VI’s existing tourism product by bringing more visitors than the territory can properly accommodate.

But successive governments have pushed for an expansion designed to attract longer-range flights and larger aircraft that can foster connections to the US mainland and beyond, in turn increasing tourist traffic and revenue to the territory.

Millions spent

Former Premier Dr. Orlando Smith’s government started working toward the expansion at least as early as 2012 and spent millions on related studies, consultations and infrastructure works.

By 2015, his administration was in discussions with various firms for a public-private partnership.

But that idea was soon nixed, and government decided instead to finance the expansion itself and contract a firm to carry out the work.

Following a tender process, Dr. Smith’s government accepted a $153 million bid from the China Communications Construction Company in 2016, but that plan soon stalled for unexplained reasons.

By 2018, Dr. Smith’s government was again floating the idea of a public-private partnership as part of the territory’s recovery from Hurricane Irma in 2017. But the project was never tendered again, and work never got under way.

Successive governments have been promising to expand the runway at Beef Island for more than a decade. (File photo: TODD VANSICKLE)
Change of tune

While campaigning for the February 2019 election, then-Virgin Islands Party leader Andrew Fahie announced that his party was “not in support” of the proposed airport expansion at the time, calling it a “legacy project to” Dr. Smith. However, after his party won control of the government and he was appointed premier, Mr. Fahie changed his tune.

In 2020, his government effectively restarted the project from scratch, hiring Atlanta-based consultant Brakkam Aviation Management, which recommended the construction of a 9,100-foot runway at an estimated cost of $183.78 million over a period of three to five years.

Mr. Fahie did not disclose how much the BVI Airports Authority paid the firm or say whether the consultancy was tendered.

Bakkram was founded by company CEO and President Miguel Southwell, a former general manager of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, who was fired in 2016 amid a public spat with the city’s mayor, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The BVIAA’s contract with the firm resulted in a six-month interim report that made various recommendations, beginning with suggestions for expanding the airport runway, Mr. Fahie said at the time. The report, however, was never provided to the public.

Recent updates

Since then, leaders in the current and former governments have occasionally mentioned their commitment to expanding the airport.

In February, BVI Airports Authority Chairman Theodore Burke led a VI delegation to Miami to attend the Airport Expansion Summit for Latin America and the Caribbean.

On the delegates’ return, the BVIAA issued a press release stating that public-private partnerships were again among the options being considered for funding the project. Other options under consideration included government-funded and “self-funded” models, the release stated.

BVIAA Managing Director Kurt Menal — who was part of the Miami delegation — said at the time that his team was revisiting various studies and plans that were developed over the years for the proposed expansion.

The release added that the BVIAA and the Communications and Works Ministry had “shifted the focus from airport expansion to holistic airport development based on a master plan which is a long-term guide to development that supports an airport’s business and infrastructure development strategy,” according to the press release.

Plan not public

At the time, however, Mr. Menal declined to provide a copy of the master plan, saying that it was in draft form and had not yet been presented to the government.

He estimated that it would be finalised in three to six months and made public sometime after that.

This week, Mr. Menal did not respond to requests for an update on the plan’s status.