Grand Bahama International Airport is “a loss-making operation”, Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) Vice Chairman Sarah St. George said, noting that the government is “an obvious candidate” for the purchase of the facility.
“It’s an interesting situation because on a standalone basis it’s not an easy thing to run an airport,” St. George told The Nassau Guardian.
“If you have an investment in something like an airport – the kind of investment that’s going to be made now – it has to be viable and it has to be sustainable.
“So, you would like to see the airport structured in such a way that could bring some revenue stream from it or some return on the investment you’ve made [and I think that can be done].
“Historically, it’s been a loss-making operation… You know, the revenue stream in an airport comes from things like departure tax – I think it’s something like $29 per passenger – that is something that I think fits very well with the government’s profile of tourism here.”
The airport is a joint venture by GBPA and Hutchison Port Holdings.
It was one of thousands of buildings damaged by Hurricane Dorian in early September.
Last month, Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said the government was eyeing the purchase of the airport.
St. George said discussions with the government started in “late-September, early-October”.
Right now, according to St. George, “all options are being evaluated”.
She said there are “a number” of other entities also interested in buying the airport.
“There are exercises in looking at what a rebuild might cost, what a refurbishment might cost,” St. George said.
“There’s an awful lot of…due diligence that needs to go into this.”
St. George said the GBPA has always looked at bringing investors to Freeport who “have the expertise in the areas that are critically needed on the island”.
She said bringing such investors to Grand Bahama would ensure that “the island can run in accordance [with] best practices in these areas”.
“The airport is no exception,” St. George told The Guardian.
“With Hutchison, you had an entity that does things to a very, very high standard and was very mindful of things that we sometimes take for granted like safety.
“They have an excellent safety record and so those are absolutely fundamental to the operation of an airport and the operation of a harbor.
“It’s just going to be a different operator of the airport. I don’t think the port authority could operate the airport. We don’t have the expertise.
“So, the answer is you have to look at how best to have that airport operated and functioning. And obviously, in our job, it’s to make sure that that happens in the fastest possible way.
“I think that you’ve heard the government and, if you think about it, the government is an obvious candidate in the sense that they have these operations all around The Bahamas, impressive operation in Nassau and for many years, the government has, in fact, indicated that they would be very interested in the airport here.”
St. George stressed that GBPA is committed to ensuring that the airport is able to fully reopen.
There are facilities in place at the airport to assist with its day-to-day operations in the immediate aftermath of Dorian.
“…It’s temporary,” St. George said.
“Technically, if you fly into Freeport now, you will see customs and immigration operating in a tented area…They have managed to do a very, very good job in these kinds of makeshift circumstances.”
St. George said less than $10 million in renovations have taken place since the storm.
The GBPA has a three-phase plan to redevelop the airport, according to St. George.
The first phase will focus on getting the airport operational “in the shortest possible time”, she said.
She said the second phase will focus on expanding the airport’s capacity “as much as possible”.
St. George said the final phase will focus on the long-term build-out.
She said this will “look at replacing the international and domestic terminal to the scale that they were before” Dorian.
The third phase is expected to be the “most expensive”, according to St. George, who noted that the airport will be “completely hurricane resistant” when it is rebuilt.