Bahamasair’s flight 141 arrived yesterday at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Broward County, Florida, to a water salute from two of the airport’s fire trucks, celebrating the airline’s first international flight out of Freeport and into Fort Lauderdale since Hurricane Dorian ravaged Grand Bahama and Abaco more than three months ago.
Grand Bahama’s makeshift arrivals and departure terminal, which had to facilitate the proper protocols in order for the flight to be cleared into the U.S., is a testament to the island’s need to expedite the process of returning international flights to the island and restarting the all-important tourism engine.
The authorities that oversee Grand Bahama’s airport have packed ticketing, security screening, customs and immigration, bathrooms and a table for coffee, into a space no bigger than Rawson Square.
A shipping container connected to the building houses the airport’s baggage scanning equipment.
The space is uncomfortable for an international airport in the nation’s second capital, but the authorities are making it work so that Grand Bahama’s economy can once again receive an inflow of tourism dollars and Grand Bahamians can begin to rebuild their lives through commerce with South Florida.
Several visitors were on the return flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Grand Bahama, but the seats were overwhelmingly occupied by Bahamians returning to Grand Bahama.
Deputy Chairman of Bahamasair Rudy Meadows told Guardian Business that the flight is important to Grand Bahama and the country as a whole.
“To be able to have access to the United States is vitally important to the economy of Freeport,” said Meadows.
“You need to have access to that so you can do the things that you need to do.”
Meadows said he expects the daily service between Grand Bahama and Fort Lauderdale to be full through to January.
Mayor of Broward County Dale Holness met with a contingent of Bahamasair employees and board members, customs and immigration representatives, and Member of Parliament for Central Grand Bahama Iram Lewis, who all traveled on the flight to commemorate the occasion.
Holness touted the historical and economic connections between The Bahamas and South Florida and pledged Broward County’s continued support of Grand Bahama and Abaco.
“I’m very happy and very delighted that we’ve started flights again to continue the connection between the people of South Florida and The Bahamas,” he said.
“We were saddened on the event of the terrible hurricane that hit the country and we were very responsive, I must say. We were very proud of what we did here in Broward County and in South Florida to reach out to, in my mind, one of our most valued neighbors in the world.
“The Bahamas has helped tremendously the development of South Florida. Your presence has been here since the earliest days and the least we could have done was to help you rebuild.
“The Bahamas is valued in terms of your tourism that we get here and I know we are valued for you also, in terms of tourism. So, having this flight here this morning in the rebuilding of Grand Bahama and Abaco and the other areas affected, it’s really a thrill for me to be able to stand here and welcome you to Broward County.”
Lewis said the fact that the island can once again receive tourists is “significant”.
“We hope that the tourism product continues to grow,” he said. “We look forward to further development.”