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NRP Candidate laments state of  VWA International Airport; questions surrounding past deals resurface

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by Eulana Weekes

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Constant calls have been made by the general public to increase airlift, travel experience and improve infrastructure at the Vance W. Amory International Airport in Nevis as the island awaits the hosting of elections slated for December 12, 2022.

Speaking on Freedom FM’s Issues Programme on Wednesday, November 30, 2022, the Hon. Cleone Stapleton Simmonds addressed the conditions of the Vance W Amory International Airport, declaring that the airport requires significant renovations, which is on the agenda for the Nevis Reformation Party if successful at the polls.

Stapleton Simmonds shared her opinion that the airport is essential to the island’s Tourism product. She suggests that a facelift of the airport’s structure, the runway and increased airlift will ensure good economic activity, based on the results of feasibility studies conducted by the NRP.

“When I visited the airport recently, EK,  I was quite surprised by the state of the airport, and so, there is need for significant renovations, just in terms of the present structure and the upkeep of that structure. So there is no doubt in our minds that we will certainly have to, perhaps within the first 100 days in office, we’ll definitely have to do some significant work at the Vance W Amory International Airport.”

The matter surrounding the Vance W Amory International Airport has brought much speculation over the years as citizens continue to question the Concession Agreement’s details regarding the airport’s development with B&L Worldwide Ltd, signed on February 06, 2019, at Cabinet Room at Pinney’s Estate. Allegedly, the Managing Director and Legal Counsel for B&L Worldwide Ltd. was former Federal Minister Jonel Powell, who signed the agreement on behalf of the company.

Hon. Alexis Jeffers, Deputy Premier of Nevis, who served as Acting Premier at the time of the signing, indicated that the agreement’s contents would be made public, and public consultations would be had as the project progresses.

On June 25 2020, Premier of Nevis, Hon Mark Brantley, in response to a question posed enquiring about the status of the NIA’s agreement with B&L Worldwide Ltd, disclosed that the NIA had somewhat called off the project, which was geared towards creating a transportation hub at the airport. 

According to Brantley, the NIA wrote a letter to B&L stating that it did not wish to continue with the project of that scale as it was proposing to do a much-reduced scale project at the Vance W Amory International Airport. This new project was expected to bring other partners into play. Considering the uncertainties associated with COVID-19 and world travel at that time, he said the NIA thought that the major project “would no longer be a wise course.”

Brantley said the NIA was in discussions with  B&L to see whether or not the company would mind participating in the reduced-scale project by making the airport more viable for private jet traffic and regional traffic rather than the initial proposal of creating an international hub. However, it is still unclear what may have transpired after the discussions.

However, Stapleton Simmonds speaking to Maurice ‘EK’ Flanders, host of the Issues Programme on Wednesday (November 30), revealed the probability of a new agreement being signed for the leasing of the Vance W Amory International Airport.

“I am aware that there is an alleged agreement between the Nevis Island Administration, this present Administration and one, Mr Patrick Drahi, an investor and he is also a resident in Nevis, for the airport to be leased to Mr Jai as a means of investing. I am not sure as to the specific terms of the agreement, but I am aware of that particular negotiation, or I think it has reached the stage where there  is actually a formal agreement; I am not actually sure if it has been executed.”

From the perspective of Stapleton-Simmonds, the general public deserves to know the exact situation relating to the airport and should also be a part of the decision-making process.

“This goes to the crocks of the matter, the fact that, with public utilities and things that the public utilises, if the Government is engaging or entering into negotiations with a private investor, then these things should be made public. For example, I am a Member of the Opposition, and I don’t have any details, any formal details from the Government pertaining to this new arrangement as it relates to the Vance Amory International Airport. So here it is, if you dare ask a question, you have to speculate, and these things shouldn’t be, because we are supposed to be, as Nevisians, part of the process. If we are going to have an investor come in and take over the operations of our public utilities, public spaces, then the public should be consulted. There should be debates. There should be White-paper Consultation. We should be a part of the process because, at the end of the day, the Government is an agent for the people.”

WINN FM has made several attempts to gather pertinent information about B&L Worldwide Ltd. However, we were unable to find a website and the owner. Reports suggest that it was not a locally registered company.

WINN FM on Thursday morning, December 1, also contacted Hon. Mark Brantley and Hon Alexis Jeffers to seek clarification on the status of the Vance W Amory International Airport. Calls to Brantley were unanswered, whilst Jeffers indicated that he has an engagement to attend and will schedule an interview with WINN for another time.

Unanswered questions remain:

Who is Patrick Drahi, and is there any truth to the leasing of the airport?

What is the status of the Airport Expansion Project, halted in 2020 because of COVID-19, according to Brantley?

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