State-of-the-art $97 million terminal promises to make Antigua and Barbuda a regional trade hub and boost visitor numbers from core markets and beyond, says Airport Authority CEO Stanley E. Smith
Currently a new state-of-the-art $97 million airport terminal is under construction and is expected to be ready in March 2015, shortly before our report is published. What role will the new terminal play in helping to achieve the government’s vision of turning Antigua into the “economic powerhouse of the region”?
The sector plays a critical role in our development. The terminal building is going to be 23,000 square meters, spread over two floors (arrivals and departures), with state-of-the-art equipment, from baggage makeup systems to full baggage screening and 4 loading bridges. It will serve as the gateway to the Eastern Caribbean and beyond. The existing terminal building is at capacity, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. So the new terminal will ensure that there is a smooth passage of incoming and outgoing passengers. Once it is built, it will be able to accommodate 1,777 passengers per hour.
We recently sat down with the Port Authority CEO Darwin Telemaque. He enthused that Antigua is already the most inter-connected nation in the Caribbean due to the service LIAT offers from its base here. With concurrent developments happening at the airport and the port, what does the future hold for Antigua as a regional trade and cargo hub?
With the development of the port, you will have passengers arriving by ship and then departing by different airlines and vice versa. This inter-modality would be very beneficial to the development of Antigua. We certainly have the capacity, as the new terminal is designed for a throughput of 3 million passengers by the year 2030, which is a significant increase compared to our current capacity of 860,000 passengers.
As you have already mentioned, the new airport will be able to handle almost 1,800 passengers an hour and will have state-of-the-art processing facilities and an abundance of retail space. What effect do you envision the new terminal having on the quality of Antigua and Barbuda’s overall tourism product?
I think it will have a significant impact on the tourism product. Antigua is considered a destination for high-end tourism and the new building is being constructed to accommodate this type of passenger. We will certainly have a seamless flow process, and we have also integrated a number of features into the airport to appeal to affluent passengers. One of the features we are particularly proud of is the state-of-the-art first class lounge with a balcony that will overlook two offshore islands, Maiden Island and Jumby Bay; it is very rare to find any other airport in the Caribbean that has such a feature.
In addition, we have an ambitious retail program boasting 30 retail and 5 food and beverage outlets.
Obviously the airport is the first and last place many visitors to Antigua will spend their time. How important is the airport experience to a visitor’s overall perception of the country?
I think it is critical. We operate on the motto that it takes four times as much to attract a new passenger than an existing passenger, so it is very important for us to have repeat passengers. We will certainly be rolling out the red carpet for all passengers. If the passengers don’t have a good experience at the airport on arrival, it could affect the rest of their vacation. So we will be doing a lot to ensure that the passenger experience is great – both incoming and outgoing We are working with immigration, customs, tour operators and taxi drivers to ensure that the face of Antigua and Barbuda is well represented.
In 2014, American Airlines, Delta Airlines and British Airways announced an increase in the number of flights to Antigua. How important is the new terminal for airlines weighing up the possibility of increasing capacity from core markets, such as the USA?
It is very, very important because the airlines need to know and be satisfied that their passengers will have a wonderful airport experience. They also need to be assured that the turnaround of their aircraft is accomplished in the shortest possible time. In Antigua, even though the number of passengers is less than a million annually, we have a very sharp peak, and we have to ensure that the capacity exists to process passengers during that peak. We are working with the airlines to assure them that once they arrive, their passengers will be processed seamlessly. A number of airlines have a very short turnaround time, and if our process is not seamless then it will affect their operations to different destinations.
We have done significant work in the past months on increasing safety measures. We have increased the length of the runway so that the airplanes can operate with a greater payload; installed a new underground fuel hydrant systems, and undertaken apron rehabilitation works.
Listening to you talk, it is clear you have a firm belief in the importance of this airport to the growth of the country and its overall perception overseas. How do you intend to communicate the changes taking place here to your core markets and the wider world?
It has been slow in coming, we will admit that; our communications strategy is not as we want it to be. We have collaborated with a number of magazines and several articles have been published so far. We have put together a transition team that consists of the Airport Authority and airport stakeholders, as well as the Ministry of Civil Aviation, to get the word out to the general public as to how we intend to transfer from this old terminal building to the new terminal building over the next three months. Once we close the old terminal building there is no turning back, because we will not operate two facilities simultaneously. We have studied and are learning from problems that occurred at new facilities in Denver and London.
You have been in this job for just over two years and you have brought with you a wealth of experience from Jamaica. You are directly responsible for the completion of the new terminal and managing the transition from the old terminal. What motivated to you to accept such a challenge in another country with all the potential pitfalls associated with this task?
Well, it was a challenge and an opportunity.
Having worked as Senior Director of Operations for 12 years, I have studied and experienced a number of transitions from old terminal buildings to new ones.
In addition, it was an opportunity to grow an overseas organization, provide functional leadership, spearhead an effective succession plan, develop staff competencies in aviation, champion a profitable commercial program and avoid some of the pitfalls witnessed at previous organizations of which I was a part.