Project aims to accommodate larger, heavier planes; could boost tourism from Eastern Europe
Negotiations are underway for an over US$40 million runway extension at the Sangster International Airport aimed at attracting heavier aircraft from fast growing tourist regions.
The development — separate from the recently completed runway resurfacing — would be the amongst the largest investments in that airport since privatisation in 2003, according to Elizabeth Scotton.
Currently the company and Government are in discussions on the design and financing, she said.
"The cost is complicated," said the hief commercial officer at MBJ Airports Ltd, which operates the airport located in Montego Bay. "It will require the acquisition of land, additional lighting, a lot of infrastructure. It will cost over US$40 million because its a very significant project. We hope to conclude discussions by the end of the year."
The runway would be extended by some 15 per cent to just under 10,000 feet (3 kilometres), which would put it on par with rival destinations in the region.
She indicated that a longer runway would facilitate increased entry of travelers from Eastern Europe, one of the island's fastest growth market in tourism.
The airport's total passengers hit 3.38 million in 2012 in line with the annual two to three per cent growth.
"It's not to say we will automatically get those travelers but by adding the additional runway length it would open us up to new markets and increased capacity," she summarised.
Most commercial aircraft can rotate at Sangster, she reasoned. However aircraft heavy on fuel returning to Russia are constrained by the runway length and may opt to reduce the plane's load factor by imposing passenger or luggage requirements.
Later she clarified in a message: "You can actually say if you wish that some aircraft, like the A330-300 and A340 operated by airlines like Aeroflot could not likely operate from here with the existing runway length to that distance".
Scotton said that extending the runway is not part of MBJ Airports concessionaire requirement. However, she declined to indicate whether the Government of Jamaica would shoulder any of the cost.
"The discussions on how it will be financed are continuing with Government," she said in a telephone interview with the Observer. "We also continue discussions with our lending partners at the IFC — the lending arm of the World Bank."
MBJ Airports recently completed its US$18.5 million runway resurfacing project. The IFC in its annual report indicated that it disbursed some US$7.5 million towards that project. Scotton said that the resurfacing would extend the runway life by some 20 years, which is a part of requirements under its concessionaire agreement.
"The runway resurfacing is separate from the the runway extension. It is still under discussion," she said.
MBJ Airports is a consortium led by Spanish based conglomerate Abertis and Vancouver Airport Services. The consortium made an initial investment of US$112 million when it acquired the airport in 2003 from the Airports Authority of Jamaica.