With the country known for its location as a strategic trade hub as well as a tourist destination, Trinidad and Tobago’s Airport Authority play a vital role for the development of the economy. In an interview witht United World, Chairman Mr. Jason Julien discusses how the Authority is working to make the nation’s airports a better gateway for business, investment and tourismTrinidad and Tobago has a long standing reputation as a great investment destination and one of the highest growth rates in the region, standing out as a regional hub in the Caribbean. What are your insights into the current state of the economy and the important role Airports Authority is playing in the countries development?
Trinidad and Tobago is by far the most advanced and fastest growing economy in the English speaking Caribbean. In the context of long term sustainable growth, we have done far better than most of our neighboring countries. We attribute a lot of that growth to our success in Oil and Gas sector which has helped create wealth and steady growth throughout the country. The next step will be to take that wealth and invest it in the diversification of our economy to ensure sustainable development for years to come.
The airport is critical in any society that is seeking to develop itself beyond its own borders. There must be a gateway to the rest of the world; both Piarco International Airport and A.N.R Robinson International Airports represent gateways to the world. Those gateways go two ways; they allow our citizens to connect to new opportunities abroad, and at the same time they allow foreigners to come to Trinidad and Tobago for business, investment and tourism. The airport as you just mentioned is the gateway into the country, and during a lot of our interviews, it has also been said that Trinidad and Tobago is perfectly positioned as a hub. How are you capitalizing on its location to truly make Piarco International Airport the first choice cargo hub in the region?
We have been blessed with a strategic geographic location, very talented human resources, and the capacity and physical infrastructure to leverage ourselves as a transport and logistics hub. The capacity that we currently have allows us to serve and attract more airlines, more tourists, and more business travelers. Beyond that we are ideally positioned for cargo handling, specifically between North America and Latin America, and we are an ideal location to service the private jet industry. There are a lot of private jets traveling between Latin America and North America, and we offer service, maintenance, and refueling facilities through our private executive jet center. We do not think we have achieved the full potential of this opportunity yet, but it is an area that we are certainly interested in developing further. We have all the right ingredients here in Trinidad and Tobago to put together a world class aviation hub, and we are not far from achieving this.How much demand is there for increased daily flights, and how are you attracting more airlines into the country to increase connectivity?
We are blessed with great geography, skilled service and maintenance capacity, and also very low cost energy. We have a lot of oil and gas, so for airlines to stop over in Trinidad and Tobago, it can be very beneficial for them in terms of costs of operation. In terms of the capacity to have more airlines, we need to explore more routes and begin to open discussions with more countries. We have the capacity and the facilities; we just need to advance discussions, prove feasibility and make the necessary agreements. I think traditionally in the aviation industry In the Caribbean, the trend has always been to look north for more connections, but in today’s world, due to increased globalization, it is becoming much more attractive to look at more direct connections to Latin America, Asia and even Africa for example. We have a world class energy industry here in Trinidad and Tobago, and we have begun exporting our energy expertise and knowledge in recent time to Africa. This presents us with a natural opportunity to open up more connections to Africa so we can continue to build on that relationship.Speaking of the transfer of skills and knowledge, AATT and Airports Council International (ACI) have an agreement which established a Global Training Hub for aviation in Trinidad and Tobago to provide training and support for airport personnel in Latin America and the Caribbean. Can you emphasize on this, and how you see the potential for Trinidad and Tobago to become an aviation knowledge hub in the region?
That initiative is very important for the region. We actually have two ongoing educational aviation facilities, and there is now a third one that is soon going to be opened. Airports Authority has an agreement with ACI as you just mentioned which is a Latin America hub here so we actually have people coming from all parts of Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean to be trained here in Trinidad and Tobago. We have a good training base here, one through Airports Authority, one through the Civil Aviation Authority, and soon a third school through the Ministry of Tertiary Education and Skills Training at the rehabilitated Camden Airfield. The facility that is currently there is for training our junior pilots, but we will build off of that. In partnership with the Ministry, we are building new modern facilities to train more pilots, and aviation engineers. This is a great opportunity for our pilots and engineers to learn critical skills right here in Trinidad instead of them having to go to Florida or other parts. So when you look at the whole big picture, we are already doing a lot in terms of training and education for our people and for the region, and I think there is a lot of opportunity to continue to build on for years to come.AATT is currently involved in bringing runway and airside facilities to international standards while at the same time upgrading the existing systems and infrastructure at both Piarco and ANR Robinson. Can you emphasize on the current upgrades taking place and how they will improve the overall customer experience?
At Piarco International Airport we will be upgrading a number of things, but I think the most important aspects of the upgrades will be those that will improve the overall experience of our clients and passengers. It’s not so much a matter of building more terminals and giving ourselves more space as it is just making what we have better. We can have better more aesthetic passenger halls, better bathrooms, better flow of passenger traffic, and we could have a covered car park. We need to look at all things that will make the overall experience of the traveller better, which will make them happier, which will in turn makes our tenants, the airlines, much happier with us. We need shops and facilities that feel more first world and add value to our travelers’ overall experience. All these things I just mentioned are really the low hanging fruits, and are more aesthetic and spatial improvements than anything else. When you look at the bigger picture for us, the next massive project is the Piarco Aeropark. The park is a huge opportunity; it’s not just a pipe dream, it’s a concept that has already been developed, and it is simply waiting to take off, no pun intended. We’ve already done a lot of the initial infrastructure; we have roads, cable, lights, drainage, what we need now is to open our doors to investors. We are now looking at opportunities beyond just the arrivals of passengers; we are talking about the arrival of business, investment and capital into the country. We want to go beyond just aviation services and to truly become a city built around the airport operating in a whole sphere of services, business, and entertainment. We have 600 plus acres of land around the Piarco aerodrome; this represents an incredible opportunity. If you want to talk about diversification of the economy, I think this is a great example. We are taking raw land and monetizing it; capitalizing on its geographical location, and turning it into a world class business center with all the facilities one needs to conduct business. This project is happening in stages as I understand. Starting from the first stage, can you give us an idea of what are some of the major opportunities for investors and what type of specific investment do you need for this first phase of the Aeropark?
In a nutshell, we want a collection of related enterprises. We need hotels and a convention center; imagine people coming to Trinidad for conferences and not actually having to travel into Port of Spain. Once we get the hotels in place, we would hope to see restaurants, and entertainment facilities as part of the Aeropark estate. What I have mentioned so far will just be for the travelers’ experience. Then there are aviation related service industries; our idea is to have a portfolio of services and industries that all come together and thrive off of each other, creating an environment that uses the airport as its nucleus. These enterprises will include hospitality and entertainment, retail and shopping, manufacturing and warehousing, as well as aviation related services. Are you offering any major incentives to investors?
We have been in contact with Mr. Chen from the Free Zones Company and we are exploring some specific incentives that may be available to companies who are looking at the Aeropark as a hub to service the region. Overall, Trinidad and Tobago also offers very attractive electricity costs, and aneducated and well trained work force, which are also great incentives when investors are looking at different countries in the region. When will you be ready to start actively working with investors and attracting concrete proposals and contracts for development?
The Piarco Aeropark will be formally launched by June this year and we will then welcome potential investors to submit applications under a Request for Proposals process. Under this process we will provide potential investors with an information memorandum with details on the Aeropark and an outline of the application process.The United States is a leading trading partner for Trinidad and Tobago. There are today a number of America’s largest multinationals already operating here. Can you please emphasize on the unique and special relationship with the US, and how the US will play a role in this project?
Trinidad and Tobago has had a long standing and mutually beneficial relationship with the United States for decades. This relationship has encompassed trade in energy products and services as well as the importation of US goods and services. In terms of aviation, the United States has been the primary extra regional destination for travelers from Trinidad and Tobago and we have key US Carriers such as American Airlines, United, Delta, and more recently JetBlue with routes from Port of Spain to various major US cities. It is envisioned that as Trinidad and Tobago develops its capability as an aviation hub that you will see a greater presence of US Carriers, Cargo, Private and Executive Jets from the US. Moreover, the AeroPark will allow for the development of Latin American hub facilities and service centers for US multinationals and interests. Let’s imagine you are at the business lounge in JFK International Airport, and you strike up a conversation with a potential investor. What would you tell them that you think would make them book a flight and come to Trinidad and Tobago and invest in the country next week?
Great question. In classic business terminology this would be called an “elevator pitch”, maybe in aviation-speak we can call this an “elevation pitch”. The case for Trinidad and Tobago, can be summarized as follows: i) strategic geographic location to access Central and South America, ii) well educated and diverse workforce, iii) access to top tier facilities and infrastructure, iv) robust banking and financial system, v) stable political and economic environment, vi) improving business climate, vii)established legislative framework that protects property rights and foreign capital and ownership, viii) and a long history of dealing with multinational companies. This is truly an emerging market with talent, systems and infrastructure that can facilitate world class investors and development.