Late last week, the government of the Commonwealth of Dominica signed documents paving the way for the construction of a new international airport that would allow some of the world’s heaviest jet aircraft to land there and easing the need for visitors to board island hopping carriers to get to the tourist paradise.
Long touted as one of the tourism jewels of the Caribbean and nestled between the French Overseas Territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe, successive governments in Dominica have struggled to find the financing to build an airport that could accommodate the larger jet aircraft as the main Melville Hall Airport in the rocky north of the island can only accommodate small private jets and propeller aircraft.
Frustrated government and travel industry officials say this was a turn off for some tourists. Booking agents have complained about the reluctance of travelers to transit several islands before settling down to a vacation but all this is set to change in the coming years.
Roosevelt Skerrit, island prime minister since 2004, said last week that the dream of many generations past to have a world class airport like neighboring Caribbean Community countries, is about to be achieved. The project is estimated to cost about $400 million and will open new economic gateways for the country as non-stop flights from Europe and
North America would be easily facilitated. Financing for this transformational project will come mainly from the controversial citizenship-by investment scheme through which Dominica and a number of neighboring countries sell citizenship and national passports to foreigners for a fee or if they invest in real estate and other developmental projects identified by authorities. PM Skerrit says the money raised from the investment scheme is proof that the program is useful despite widespread criticism and fears that it is a haven for people with dubious backgrounds.
“Fellow citizens, we continue to make good progress towards the development of our international airport. We have completed the construction of the lab where all of the material testing will be conducted for the international airport and the equipment is now being installed. Site clearance has started, and this will facilitate continued geotechnical and other site-specific surveys. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been completed and mitigating measures identified are being addressed. We are engaging in discussions with airlines operating in target source markets, so that when the airport is completed, we would have already secured Dominica as one of the new and exciting destinations on their route,” Skerrit said.
When completed, Dominica would be among the last nation in the 15-member Caricom tourism dependent bloc to have a full-fledged international airport.
Nearby St. Vincent which had similar runway limitations and frustrations like Dominica in 2017 completed and activated the Argyle International Airport six years behind schedule. American and Caribbean Airlines, Air Canada among others make regular non-stop flights to St. Vincent which spent $260 million to construct the new facility and minimize the smaller one near the capital. St. Lucia, Antigua and St. Kitts have for decades completed work on world class airports and runways. Montserrat, still a British colony but a full member of Caricom, is the lone standout in this regard.
Others like Barbados, which recently upgraded the Grantley Adams International Airport and Guyana which extended its previously limited 7,400-foot main runway, have seen the need to improve a visitor’s first impression on landing while Suriname also has plans to upgrade its main airport and related facilities. Guyana also constructed a brand-new terminal building and added four jetways with plans to add four more in the future. In doing so, it is eyeing plans to make the country the northern South American-south Caribbean an aviation hub in the future.