airport meeting
During a recent visit to the United Kingdom, Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer, centre, poses with other Virgin Islands officials and Vijay Rangarajan, a director general of the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (second from left). (Photo: GIS)

The United Kingdom supports a 12-year-old plan to lengthen the runway at the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport to bring larger jets with more passengers to the Virgin Islands, officials said.

Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer met recently with Vijay Rangarajan, a UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office director general whose responsibilities include the overseas territories.

The Sept. 14 meeting “primarily focused on infrastructural development, with a particular emphasis on the urgent need for airport expansion in the Virgin Islands,” according to Government Information Services.

Beef Island runway
Successive Virgin Islands governments have promised for more than a decade to extend the Beef Island runway, above. (File photo: INTERLINK)
Borrowing limits

Financing the massive airport project, which has been estimated to cost as much as $200 million, has historically been its major sticking point. VI public borrowing generally is required to stay within three ratios set by the Protocols for Effective Fiscal Management, a VI-UK agreement reached in 2012.

The expansion’s cost would likely push debt levels well past those limits.

However, exceptions to the protocols can be made, according to a GIS press release issued Friday.

“All parties acknowledged that the protocols allow for temporary deviations from fiscal ratios when there is a clear plan for returning to compliance and when the proposed projects adhere to the PEFM procedures,” the release stated. “The UK recognised that these infrastructural projects are investments in the territory’s sustainability.”

Airport visit

After the meeting with Mr. Rangarajan, the VI delegation visited London City Airport, which operates a 4,948-foot runway that is 306 feet longer than the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport’s.

London City Airport can accommodate some jets and is located near the financial services hubs of Canary Wharf and the City of London. It was home to 11 airlines and served 5.9 million passengers in 2019, according to its 2020 Master Plan.

The visit — as well as “discussions with UK [government] infrastructure experts and the Inverness Airport Authority” — were the source of “valuable lessons for the future airport development in the [VI],” according to the GIS press release.

These visits, the release added, will inform the VI airport expansion.

“The Virgin Islands is expected to begin drafting the business case for the expansion by late 2023 or early 2024, demonstrating their strong commitment to advancing the project,” the release stated.

Biz case required

The Protocols for Effective Financial Management require that a comprehensive business case — including a cost-benefit analysis — be completed and published for major capital projects.

The expansion will also require other measures, according to GIS.

“The success of the project is contingent upon the Virgin Islands’ effective handling of debt and recovery plans, as well as the support from the United Kingdom,” the release stated. “The UK encouraged the Virgin Islands to incorporate social elements into the project, drawing inspiration from successful regional airport models.”


VI officials have disclosed few details about the latest plans for the runway expansion.

During a House of Assembly meeting on Sept. 5, opposition member Julian Fraser asked about the plans, but Mr. Rymer responded only that the BVI Airports Authority is “focused on the holistic development of the [airport] based on an airport master plan, which includes the extension of the runway and associated airside infrastructure.”

The master plan, however, has not yet been made public, and the public and media were not invited to an Aug. 18 stakeholder meeting held to discuss the expansion project.

At the meeting, invited public officers and private-sector stakeholders reviewed the timeline of previous attempts to start the expansion and the delays that stalled it, according to a press release issued afterwards.

Airport meeting
Public officers and invited stakeholders discuss plans for the airport expansion during an Aug. 18 meeting on Tortola. The public and the media weren’t invited, but the government provided a brief update and photos afterwards. (File photo: GIS)
Other infrastructure

In addition to the September discussions with the FDCO about the airport, Mr. Rymer discussed the funding of other “crucial infrastructure,” according to the Friday press release.

“The UK reiterated its willingness to consider detailed proposals positively, and the minister also engaged with the UK Local Partnerships agency to follow up on an FCDO offer of technical assistance on infrastructure planning, utilising Local Partnerships’ experience in supporting projects of a similar scale across the UK,” the release stated.