NIA Negotiating Public Private Partnership to Transform VAI Airport Into a First-Class Facility
Charlestown, Nevis, January 27, 2023 (NIA) – The Nevis Island Administration (NIA) is in negotiation with a private investor to embark on an expansion project at the Vance W. Amory International Airport (VAIA) which will transform the airport into a first-class facility.
This is according to Premier Hon. Mark Brantley, NIA Minister of Finance, Economic Planning, and Foreign Investment, during his monthly press conference on January 26, 2023. Having spoken publicly about the plan to expand the VAIA on several occasions prior, Mr. Brantley explained that not much detail had been revealed earlier as the project is still in the negotiation phase.
He however took the opportunity to divulge some information coming out of those preliminary discussions with telecoms billionaire Mr. Patrick Drahi.
“I have not been able to get into the minutia of the discussions because we have not yet concluded the agreement so I’m just giving the bare bones of what it is we are trying to do and saying that we have an investor who is prepared to partner with us at terms which are very favourable to the people of Nevis…[the airport expansion] is part of our development but significant as the idea may be, we all understand that we can’t move unless we find the financial resources to do the development and so we started conversations with a significant investment on the island, Mr. Patrick Drahi, he has made Nevis home, and he has invested significantly on the island already. So we started conversations with Mr. Drahi to try to forge a Public Private Partnership where he will bring money to finance the infrastructural improvements that we want to do at the VAIA…
“We are going to extend and reinforce the runway, we are going to create additional parking, we are going to create an FBO (Fixed Base Operator), we are going to create a hangar, and we are going to add fuel to the facility. Of course, we are going to do lighting and fencing, so it really will be transformed into a first-class facility. That’s what we’re seeking to do.”
The investor would be financing the construction aspect, and upon completion of the project the NIA through the Nevis Air and Sea Ports Authority (NASPA) will continue to pay and be responsible for staffing the facility.
The Premier explained that rather than the taxpayers being burdened with the estimated US $26 million cost of the project, the government and the investor are discussing using the revenue derived from the new facility to repay the investment capital at a nominal interest rate of two percent. As is common practice in these types of arrangements for capital projects, the NIA will offer a concession package to the investor for materials and equipment imported for use on the project.
He informed that before pursuing a partnership with Mr. Drahi, the NIA Cabinet had considered several proposals related to the future of the obsolescent airport, and opted to forego pursuing an international airport at a cost in excess of US $100 million dollars. He said that option would have involved considerable work including removing Hurricane Hill, going well out into the ocean to create the runway, and constructing a facility to take wide-bodied commercial jets.
After careful consideration, the NIA opted to build out the existing facility to accommodate regional jets used by international carriers, intra-regional flights and charter flights, which fits the island’s existing tourism model of attracting high-net-worth visitors.
“We started looking at other options and one of those options was to create a very high-end private jet facility that will allow most of the world’s private jets to land here, bearing in mind that our tourism product is at the higher end of the market, that those persons on the private jets are precisely the demographic that Nevis’ tourism serves; bearing in mind that a lot of our homeowners on the island have private jets, that they would like to have their jets land here and to be parked here. And so we conceptualized a project which will extend the runway to accommodate most of the world’s private jets, to reinforce that runway since we will now have heavier traffic on that runway, to do something which hasn’t happened before which is to provide jet fuel at the airport- that is a huge revenue earner… and in good time we’ll be able to have direct flights from places like Miami using the regional jet equipment that many of the airlines are now employing.
“Our major hotel the Four Seasons [Resort, Nevis] has indicated that they are quite excited about this prospect because sometimes there are groups that want to charter to come in and the possibility to charter directly to Nevis is their preferred choice.”
Premier Brantley said the NIA’s intention is not to compete with St. Kitts but to complement what is happening at the Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport so that the country would have two facilities, one for international commercial flights and another for private jets and other small aircraft.
“We had a meeting on Wednesday with the representative for Mr. Drahi, also at that meeting were Perez Consulting Engineers…Perez would have done the Argyle International Airport in St. Vincent, and we had at the table as well proposed contractors for the project, Kelly Construction who have just completed the build-out of the runway in Barbuda and who have had airport experience all around the world.
“And so we are working with these stakeholders to see if we can come to the necessary terms to do what we need to do at the airport. It will necessitate some land acquisition. It will necessitate moving some persons to allow the airport expansion to occur. We propose to do this in an open and forthright way. We propose when the time comes, as this government does, to have public consultation where we come to the public in the usual town hall setting, explain what we’re going to do in detail and get feedback from members of the public.”
The Honourable Premier said it is envisioned that once work begins the new improved facility will be delivered within two years.