The leading airport in the Caribbean. A true success story of a fruitful partnership between China and Antigua & Barbuda
Antigua & Barbuda's new airport terminal designed to support the country's rapid economic development, through an exemplary collaboration with China.
In a twin island nation with a resident population of 100,000 people and a stay over tourist number of 850,000 per annum, the airport is of critical importance to the economy with more than 90% of those passengers entering and exiting the country via the airport.
Prime Minister Hon. Gaston Browne has a vision for his island, to become the economic powerhouse of the Eastern Caribbean, and growth in airport arrivals and increased revenue from the airport are a key part of his growth strategy for Antigua and Barbuda.
The VC. Bird International Airport (VCBIA) has progressed from foundation to operation after a record three-year turnaround, which has put Antigua on the map in 2018 when it received the Caribbean Travel Awards recognition as the Caribbean Airport of the Year. The award came from the prestigious pam-Caribbean Publication, the Caribbean Journal, one of the leading publications in the Caribbean market which has operated since 2011 and changed the way the Caribbean gets its news.
Chief Operating Officer of the Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority (ABAA), Stanley Smith, says, 'The airport is our gateway to the island and our whole economy. The new build was planned with long term growth of up to 2 million passengers per annum and is an economic pillar for the country.' Smith joined the ABAA in 2012 with 15 years Aviation Management under his belt including Director of Operations at the Norman Manley International Airport in Jamaica. He has been a key driver in the completion of the new airport and has ensured that the airport plays its role in increasing economic activity on the island.
The airport is recognised for providing outstanding international standard airport services. The new modern and beautifully designed terminal provides seamless experiences for travellers and the best -in-class airport experience you can find in the region.
The destination was simultaneously named 'Luxury Destination of the Year', recognising the expertly cultivated broad collection of luxury hotels in the destination that include Curtain Buff, Carlisle Bay, South Point, Blue Waters, the recently upgraded Jumby Bay, and the newest addition Hodges Bay. Future additions are slated to include a Waldorf Astoria and a new Rosewood property at Half Moon Bay.
Its luxury status is further supported by its position as the yachting capital of the Caribbean. An unparalleled calendar of events annually starts with the Antigua Yacht Show, which brings together 100 superyachts in a business-to-business show, the Superyacht Challenge, the RORC Caribbean 600 offshore race -that has risen in ten years to become one of the most prestigious offshore races in the world-, the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta and the Antigua Sailing Week. No other island across the whole Caribbean has such an incredible list of events or constant inflow of yachts, crews and media attending the events season long.
The new airport development delivers an experience that is needed to support the calibre of travellers and investors who visits Antigua. The new 23,000 square feet airport includes commercial operations and other complementary services, such as increased baggage handling facilities, four jet bridges with the capacity to increase to 13, cutting edge security systems and the implementation and use of renewable energy provided by a nearby solar farm.
The experience of the old airport included embarking and disembarking onto the concourse and walking in the hot sun to the terminal building. The new air-conditioned jet bridges have transformed the passenger experience along with an increase to 46 common-use check in counters, and self-check non-proprietary kiosks as well as an increase in immigration counters for both arrivals and departures. The airport is the first and last experience a traveller has of a country and the new VCBIA now delivers an exemplary service worthy of its accolades.
As Antigua's tourism market is heavily weighted to high-end travellers, critical services include fast track and executive lounge services. The latter can cater for up to 150 guests and provides an outside viewing balcony. Private jet arrivals are also facilitated by the fixed base operator service delivered by Signature Flight support at the old Runway 10. The service is ideal for busy investors and boat owners wishing to travel by privately owned jets and have expedited clearance service.
However, what really distinguishes the airport redevelopment is the vision of its future built into the original plan. Critically, due to Antigua's strategic location within the island chain of the Eastern Caribbean, it is developing into the regions logistics hub. Current international air links between Europe and North America as well as its role as home base for regional airline LIAT, mean it already operates as a hub for vacation and business travellers. The Airport Authority continues to work with The Tourism Authority on developing new destinations and inbound flights as well as increasing flight capacity of existing markets where demand is high, such as the recently launched American Airline's flight out of Miami.
Outside of passenger travel, significant growth is going to come out of cargo. To date this has not been a focus of the Airport Authority, but with the acquisition of a new 30,000 square feet warehouse later this year, the space to operate an efficient cargo facility will be established. As part of delivering a secure operation, the Airport Authority has already acquired an X-ray system which will allow large scale cargo to be discharged from an aircraft and be scanned without having to break it down, thereby ensuring a very efficient cargo offload and clearing operation. Training and development are being supported by forming strategic partnerships with other airports such as the one in Ecuador, as well as looking at developing cargo routes out of South America. Consideration is also being given to Antigua to become a stop off point for cargo heading to Miami and Amsterdam.
A key development partner to date is China. The funding for the new airport build was provided by China's EXIM Bank's concessional loans and by a Chinese government interest-free loan. The construction company who completed the build to high standards within three years was the Chinese Civil Construction Company. The Government of Antigua and Barbuda and Hon. PM Gaston Browne continue to see the value in partnering with Chinese investors to further develop the airport as well as investment in general in Antigua.
The next stage of development aside from cargo concentrates on re-use of the old terminal building. Administration offices and a new airport hotel as well as re-development of the tower are part of the new masterplan which would see integration of the original terminal into the new airport with access created between the two buildings thus creating an expanded airport with the full complement of services expected in a first world airport. Part of the plan also requires relocation of the aircraft risk and firefighting service to the south side of the airport.
Coupled with an outstanding seaport, further development of cargo, alongside the redevelopment of the old terminal building, Antigua has cemented its' position as the regional logistics hub for the Eastern Caribbean.