Govt considering buying GB airport

Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar revealed yesterday that the government is eyeing the purchase of the Grand Bahama International Airport following Hurricane Dorian, noting that repairs could cost up to $40 million.

The airport is a joint venture by the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and Hutchison Port Holdings.

It was one of thousands of buildings damaged by the deadly Category 5 storm in early September.

D’Aguilar noted that Hutchison Ports has “not demonstrated” an effort to rebuild the airport to the state that it was prior to the storm, describing the company as “somewhat reluctant”.

Hutchison Port Holdings CEO Godfrey Smith declined to comment when reached yesterday.

It is unclear if GBPA and Hutchison are interested in selling the airport.

While speaking to reporters outside Cabinet, D’Aguilar said, “Does the government have plans to buy the Grand Bahama International Airport? Certainly, it’s under consideration and that’s all I would be prepared to say right now.”

The minister added, “Now, buying the airport is the easiest thing. It’s what you do once you get the airport. So, right now, the focus of the Bahamian people is on Hutchison Ports to do something with that airport. Once you buy it, the focus now shifts to the government of The Bahamas.

“So, what are you gonna do with it? And to rebuild that airport could cost $20 [million], $30 [million], $40 million. You have to figure out where that money is going to come from. You have to consider who the operator is going to be.  You have to consider how that airport is going to make money.”

D’Aguilar said the government does not want to rush into making a decision.

“We understand that it is critical to the economy of Grand Bahama,” D’Aguilar said.

“We’re very sensitive to that, but we have to think through the purchase.

“Everyone’s just focused on: ‘Are you gonna buy it? Are you gonna buy it? Are you gonna buy it?’

“It’s: Okay, what are you gonna do when you buy it? You can’t just buy it and then it sits there. You got to have a plan. And so, if we were to agree to buy it, we have to work through the plan.”

D’Aguilar said the government is trying to figure out the airport’s source of revenue.

He questioned whether it would be able to fund itself.

He also noted that the government is trying to figure out a business model for the airport.

“Obviously we look to NAD, the model at the LPIA,” D’Aguilar said.

“Clearly they have a lot more traffic than Grand Bahama. We’re trying to figure out what is the business model and how it works. You can’t sort of just make that decision on the fly.

“You got to do a lot of research. You got to get all the financials. You have to consider all those things. So, are we considering it? Yes, but we’re working through all of the proposals and how we would make it work once we acquired it.”

Last month, GBPA Acting Chairman Sarah St. George estimated that the cost of Dorian-related damage would be in “the high double-digit millions”.

St. George said she was assured that Hutchison Whampoa had a sensible approach to restoring the airport.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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