The small Caribbean island of St. Vincent is thinking big these days moving forward with an ambitious $240 million new airport set to open in 2012.

"For us to grow, it has to be done," says Glen Beache, Minister of Tourism for the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). The Argyle International Airport will serve as an economic engine, bringing in more tourists as well as sparking growth, investment and development for the region, he says. "We are really looking at good things to come from it."

The new airport, the largest single project ever for St. Vincent, replaces the existing E.T. Joshua Airport. It will feature a 2,745m long b runway that can accommodate aircraft as large as a 747-400. The new airport will support direct flights from North America and Europe.

SVG, a collection of 32 islands and cays in the Southern Caribbean, is currently served by a number of smaller airports with capacity for aircraft with fewer than 50 seats.

Work is well underway and construction on the 11,520 m2 (124,000 ft2) terminal is scheduled to begin next month. Thus far, the major undertaking - estimated to consist of more than half of the total project - has been in reshaping the landscape of the volcanic island. This involved removing three mountains, spanning a river and filling in two valleys on the 175-acre site to level the site. "We don't have a lot of flat land," Beache explains.

The airport is being developed by the International Airport Development Company, a private limited liability company wholly-owned by the SVG government.

Beache says he has had discussions with British Airways, Lufthansa, Iberia and Virgin Atlantic so far. He also sees American Airlines and JetBlue as other potential prospects that may be interested in offering new direct service to SVG.

Visitors are drawn to the area primarily for its eco-tourism, boating and yachting, diving and destination-weddings or honeymoons, he says. The island was also the setting for the recent popular, three "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.

Currently the island has between 150,000 to 200,000 tourists each year, including traffic from cruise ships. Beache says he expects that number could increase to up to a million tourists annually. One of the primary concerns is that the island maintains its unspoiled character, which he describes as "the Caribbean the way it was 40 years ago." New hotel development projects in the planning process carried out will eventually add ups to 1000 new rooms, but none will be over five stories tall.

He acknowledges that the airline industry has had its share of ups and downs over the past few years but contends, "All of those carriers are looking for that next destination to take off."

Source: Flight Daily News