More than eight months after it initially indicated intentions to acquire Grand Bahama International Airport (GBIA), the government has not solidified a deal for purchase with the airport’s current owners, Hutchison Port Holdings, and is, as Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar puts it, meandering through the negotiation process.
GBIA sustained tens of millions of dollars in damage during the deadly and destructive Category 5 Hurricane Dorian nearly a year ago.
Dissatisfied with the effort shown by the airport’s owners to rebuild, the government indicated its plan to purchase the airport at the end of 2019.
“The government of The Bahamas has always expressed an interest in acquiring it, only because Hutchison has expressed a position that they really would rather not run it anymore. So we’re the sort of natural person to acquire it. That negotiation is meandering through the different groups of lawyers, but I think the eventual desire is for a suitable deal for government to take it over and add it to its grouping of airports,” D’Aguilar told Guardian Business yesterday.
“But I always say and I reiterate time and time again that the easiest part of this Grand Bahama airport is to buy it. The $45 million question is how are you going to build it back with a certain level of resiliency, because I don’t know how many times in the last ten years the airport has been built back and a hurricane comes in and destroys it again. So it would make absolutely no sense, while it’s certainly expedient to build something back where it once was, it really makes no sense to invest tens of millions of dollars in building a structure or building an airport or terminal buildings when we’ve seen time and time again what happens when a hurricane blows through.”
An initial assessment following the hurricane showed that the airport sustained around $40 million in damage, however, D’Aguilar said at this point he “has no idea what it would cost” to purchase and rebuild the facility.
He said ideally the government would be able to strike a deal for the rebuilding of the airport similar to the one made for the redevelopment of Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA).
“I mean yeah, you’ve got to find out how you’re going to come up with the funds to rebuild it, how you’re going to fund it. Obviously it starts off with some sort of assessment on where to build it, how to build it and you have to take into consideration that every so often a wall of water anywhere from 20 to 25 feet high is going to come through there. So that‘s how you have to assess how you’re going to tackle that,” he said.
“Airports are notoriously expensive. The government has 28 airports in the Family Islands, this will be the 29th and we will probably look to use the model similar to NAD (the Nassau Airport Development Company), where we create a development company, we hire a professional operator and it would be that approach. But that’s putting the cart before the horse. We right now haven’t solidified a deal with Hutchison, so we’re in that process.”