Declaring that the Piarco International Airport (PIA) was inadequately designed, Gerald Hadeed, chairman, Airports Authority of T&T (AATT), said there is need for the PIA and the ANR Robinson airport to be upgraded and extended. Hadeed, who received his instruments of appointment in January 2012, said the airport at Piarco was never designed as an international one.
“It (the airport) was designed as a national airport in the United States; it doesn’t have a lot of facilities, unfortunately. I would consider it to be an airport that is inadequately designed for an international airport. What we are doing now is, we are reconfigurating quite a bit of the airport to get it to appear to be international,” Hadeed said.
The transformation exercise includes having proper arrangements in place for in-transit passengers, especially passengers from Guyana. Hadeed said the new in-transit system is working quite “satisfactorily.” “They (the Guyanese passengers) are the ones who have to deplane and because of the AATT regulation, we have to re-screen them before they go back onto the aircraft. That is international procedure.”
An estate development project is being done, Hadeed said, and would be called the North Aviation Business Park. “All the infrastructure is in place already, which would include: power, water and telecommunication. We are marketing the North Aviation Business Park at the present time internationally, and we’ve had a lot of enquiries from people wanting to set up businesses at Piarco to service South and Central America. We should be completing that in another two or three months,” he said.
Included in the business park would be the Radisson International Hotel and Conference Centre as well as in-bond shopping at Piarco. Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) would be part of the park. “CAL would be working with the major international groups to bring high quality, high paying jobs to repair airplanes in T&T. We expect to develop multiple hangers for that project,” Hadeed said.
AATT is also seeking public/private participation in the construction of a multi-storey car park at the airport and a centre for shopping. “Maybe a three- or four-storey carpark (to be constructed) where the existing car park is,” he said. These projects, Hadeed believes, would assist with bringing investments to T&T and in heating up the construction sector. Tenders are to go out for that project. Asked how soon, he said the AATT board was expected to meet on Wednesday to talk about the project and tendering. “We have invited bids to select an operator for an executive jet centre, which would be at the south terminal, so an RFP (request for proposal) has gone out for that. That also would bring in additional revenue,” he said.
When asked how much revenue is estimated to be earned, Hadeed said: “That would be dependent on how many flights they bring to Trinidad and flights leave from Trinidad.” Changes would also be made to the food court to allow up and coming entertainers to perform there. Regarding labour at the AATT, he said: “We have 60 officers who have not agreed to sign on to the collective agreement. I propose meeting with them very shortly to try to iron out the situation. Those dues are outstanding for up to 2011.”
Wish list for ANR Robinson Airport
Referring to the ANR Robinson airport at Crown Point, Tobago, Hadeed said AATT plans to build an international wing for United Kingdom and United States passengers’ use. “The existing terminal, we’ll use exclusively for domestic travel and a new wing going westward of the terminal building, we are going to be putting up a new wing there for international passengers coming from United States and Europe,” he said.
Referring to funding for these projects, Hadeed said a wish list was presented to the Government. “We have been given the go ahead to do some of the projects. The balance of the projects we have to do, we will do via cash flow from the airport. For the other projects, we would go into public/private partnerships.”
Asked if expenditure on these projects would cost billions, Hadeed said: “I won’t go into the billions, billions get people in trouble. I would think we would take it one at a time and see how we go. I do believe that you’d see a very different international airport at Piarco.”
The AATT earns its revenue from shop rental. “We are looking at the airport as a commercial enterprise. What has happened in the past, every single lease at the airport had expired for four years. There was an absolute breakdown in the collection of rent. Many people left the airport owing hundreds of thousands of dollars.” “At present, we hired two lawyers who are working on expediting leases at an increased rate since expenses have gone up. We are looking at that. We are in the process of issuing new leases to the tenants of the airport.”
Hadeed said there are tenants who have been operating their businesses without leases for six years. “We are looking at how best we can raise the revenue to carry out the expansion of the airport without having to go to the Ministry of Finance for money.”
The tenants who are owing would not get the opportunity to renew their leases until the outstanding amount is settled. Hadeed said CAL is one of the tenants that owes, but is in the process of settling its AATT debt. “We have them on a month-to-month, making sure we collect on a month-to-month and the back rent, we are making sure to collect.” Asked how much is CAL owing, Hadeed said: “That’s confidential.” Debts aside, Hadeed believes AATT is in a strong financial position. “There are no areas of concern I can see in the horizon.”
Like all airports internationally, T&T has the problem of illegal drugs passing through, but Hadeed said there are efforts in place to beef up security. “As you can see, it’s a wide open space. We are, however, putting things in place that will ensure that we monitor completely, all areas of the airport. Every inch of that airport will be monitored closely. I feel very confident working with Mr (Jack) Warner and the national security agency, that we would have everything covered,” he said.
Compensation for Oropune residents
In order to facilitate the construction of the new airport in 2001, Oropune villagers had to be relocated under the Oropune Village compensation project. Giving an update, Hadeed said: “We have done a big compensation for the residents of the Oropune Village. It’s been languishing for the last 14 years, we’ve handled a few of them. We still have a few more to handle. We’ve done (compensated) the last time, about 38 Oropune villagers that we’ve paid,” he said. About 40 more Oropune villagers are awaiting compensation.