United World speaks to Gerald Hadeed, Chairman of the Airports Authority, about fast-tracking customs and entry, creating an excellent workplace, and turning Trinidad & Tobago into an international transportation hub.Trinidad & Tobago has brilliant and extremely competent professionals in the airline industry, but has suffered from brain-drain. How is the Airports Authority working to bring them back home?
We have had discussions with Caribbean Airlines and they have had discussions with a major international air carrier to set up a major aviation repair center for aircraft that will create hundreds of jobs and a pilot training academy. We will bring pilots from Central and South America to be trained by our people in Trinidad & Tobago.
The Airports Authority is also working to transform Piarco International Airport into an international transport hub, by building better facilities and fully developing the 1,700 acres of land that we have available. Piarco will create high quality jobs and bring economic benefits to the nation. Our engineers will have a reason to come back home and work in an industry that will foster the growth of the country.
You mentioned during your appointment that you want to make a difference. Could you elaborate on the difference that you aim to create for the people of the nation?
We need hope; hope to believe that plenty of brightness will come from a small ray of light. The Airports Authority will create a new kind of customer service in which everybody who uses our airports will feel comfortable and special.
“Making you feel special” could be a motto for Airports Authority. In which ways are the airports of T&T special when compared to others in the region?
If we make our employees feel that their jobs are special and unique, then that will transcend to the people that use the airport. I am going to make every employee feel that they own a part of the airport.
Mr. Hadeed, these are powerful words that will touch the heart of hundreds. How do you plan to make them a reality?
Every time that I go to the airport, I speak to the employees. You have to be able to know the people by their first names, and ask them how they are and how their kids are.
In my case I will be a very humble chairman, asking them to make the airport be the place that everyone wants it to be, so it has to start with me and my board.
The airport is the face of the nation. I clearly remember walking through the gates and feeling the warm welcome of the people of Trinidad & Tobago. However, one of your priorities is to reduce the waiting time in customs.
This is one of the things I would like to change because you have three different Ministries operating the Customs procedure. I’ve asked for a meeting to be set up with the head of Customs and the head of Immigration, where we will form a committee with representatives from immigration, Customs, the Airport Authority, Civil Aviation, and the airlines to look at ways to make the entry to Trinidad and Tobago easier for citizens and visitors. As a first measure, I intend to open the crew gate for the elderly and mothers with kids once the crew has gone through Immigration. I am asking as well for local citizens to fill a declaration form instead of an immigration form in order to speed up the process and the implementation of scanners to read the passports.
For the next year, we will approach the various embassies to allow us to process the immigration of our passengers before they arrive here, so they can go straight for their bags.
What kind of technology will be implemented in the airports to achieve these goals?
I’ve had discussions with the U.S. Embassy and we are going to start introducing scanners and finger printing into the country.
Trinidad & Tobago has held various international meetings, like the SOA in 2009, and also a Cricket World Cup that attracted thousands of people to the country. What lessons have the Authority learnt from these experiences? How well prepared are AATT and the country to host these type of events?
We have the capability for the development of Trinidad as a major international conference center, and we can use our experience to market our nation as the international hub for conferences. Trinidad is a great location for business tourism, and Tobago for leisure tourism: it’s the only nation in the Caribbean that offers you both!
There is still an important development gap between Piarco and Tobago. How are you working to fill it?
Our former Prime Minister, Mr. A.N.R. Robinson, said to me on many occasions, “You know Gerry, every night at 9 o’clock, when there are no more boats and flights, Tobago secedes from Trinidad.” And one of the first things that we’ve done is open the Tobago airport 24 hours a week from this month onwards for inter-island flights. This measure will contribute greatly to the unity of Trinidad & Tobago.
The development of A.N.R. Robinson Airport in Tobago brings life into the island. Could you comment on the impact that the new airport will have for the development of Tobago?
The development of the Tobago terminal will transform the A.N.R. Robinson Airport into an international terminal that will bring more airlines to Tobago. The Authority will work with the National Petroleum Company (NP) to attract more carriers with inexpensive fuel and concessions. The transatlantic flights have to refuel somewhere and T&T could be that place.
H.E. Ambassador Parsan told us that the government and the Airport Authority will be working very hard to increase the number of international flights to Trinidad.
We want to create a major repairing hub in Trinidad as a first step to attract international flights to the country, and we will also work on discounted fuel prices. Trinidad will bring Central and South America together with the Caribbean.