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Mike Henry's plan for Vernamfield gets moving next month

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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Did you know that the local spelling, Vernamfield, is really incorrect if you are referring to the former World War II United States Army Air Forces airfield located in Clarendon?

In, fact the airfield was actually renamed Vernam Air Force Base by the newly formed United States Air Force in 1948.

The base was named in honour of First Lieutenant Remington de Bremont Vernam, an American pilot who entered the French Air Service during World War I.

Vernam was shot down behind German lines on October 30, 1918. After the Armistice, he was found by American forces in a hospital in Longwey, France, with another wounded aviator, Lt Arthur C Dineen.

Vernam died of his wounds on December 1, 1918 as the First World War drew to a close. He is buried in the American cemetery at St Mihiel in Thiaucourt, France and was posthumously awarded the United States' Distinguished Service Cross.

Vernam AFB closed on May 2, 1949 due to budgetary cutbacks. After the closure, it was essentially abandoned and all the structures were removed or torn down. The facility has been derelict for decades.

But, even after it descended into dereliction, for Member of Parliament for Central Clarendon, Lester Mike Henry, it was always the best hope for the development of the parish.

To most Jamaicans, the MP had been speaking about his plans for the development of the area so long, it had lost its shine and sounded more and more like a veteran politician practising the epilogue to a long, successful and political career.

But, just like his “multi-modal” concept of urban/rural public transportation is gaining traction in a period marked primarily by confusion and indiscipline in that sector, Henry is about to see the start of work on his dream project for the parish finally coming to life.

The initial $300 million project to re-establish the aerodrome is scheduled to begin next month and, according to Henry, plans are now being crafted for the JDF to provide a presence and security at the site following several stakeholders meetings.

“It is going to be in stages and the first stage, which is to make it operational as an aerodrome, should start about the first week in August,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

“The next stage will involve attracting the investments needed to complete what will eventually become the Vernamfield Aerotropolis Jamaica,” he explained.

Henry also announced that there is increasing interest being shown by Far Eastern companies to start cargo operations at Vernamfield.

“In fact, there is a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) company ready to set up at Vernamfield to begin spraying aircraft there,” he said.

This Aerotropolis, according to him, will bring together multiple commercial activities including aviation-related and global trade logistics, all strategically linked in an operating space that will facilitate the ease of doing business, greater economic efficiencies and the achievement of more attractive and sustainable development.

“The activities within the geographical space of the Aerotropolis are linked more by the movement of goods and services and the ICT links, than by immediate proximity to each other,” he stated.

Aeroptropolis Jamaica is scheduled to become a national strategic project, to complement the maritime transshipment structure of Jamaica to target international trade.

He noted that currently only 10 per cent of the cargo passing throughthe Port of Kingston is destined for the domestic market and, therefore, the intention is that Vernamfield will function in a similar manner.

Interestingly, Henry reported to Parliament just over a year ago that with the development of Vernamfield, the Tinson Pen airstrip in South Western St Andrew is to be relocated to Clarendon.

He said that relocation of Tinson Pen, as well as the proposed building of a logistics hub was being done as part of the preparations for the privatisation of the Norman Manley Airport in Kingston, and that Cabinet had given its approval for the development of the Vernamfield facility and the relocation of both the Tinson Pen Airstrip and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Air Wing which is based there.

When completed, the Vernamfield Aerotopolis will be able to accommodate two million tons of cargo.

Henry noted that online is one of the most popular activities, worldwide. However, it requires fulfillment centres and will become one of the largest markets to be addressed by Aerotropolis Jamaica.

“In reviewing the 10 largest cargo airports across the world, it will be noted that there are only two of these airports in the western hemisphere – Memphis International Airport and Louisville International Airport — with the growth in e-commerce, globally. There is definitely a huge opportunity for serious cargo business at Vernamfield,” he predicted.

He said that, additionally, the Aerotropolis will facilitate:

• Aircraft maintenance repair and overhaul (MOR) services, starting with the nearby Garvey Maceo High School, with universities and colleges to be clustered next to the school;

• Manufacturing and assembly facilities with factory outlets, and long term development of the leisure industry, with hotel and entertainment districts, including Milk River Bath;

• Meetings and international conventions and expositions facilities, which are to be developed independently;

• Cargo logistics and cargo security facilities, medical and wellness centres and container and bulk port facilities, as well as ICT corridors.

He noted that the government has already received unsolicited proposals to invest some US$2.5 billion in the project's infrastructure, as well as to establish various businesses.

Explaining where the Government the project is now and its implementation, he noted that in March 2017, the Cabinet had authorised the Airports Authority of Jamaica (AAJ), and other key stakeholders, to spearhead and co-ordinate all activities that would culminate in the re-establishment of Vernamfield.

These include the relocation of the JDF Air Wing's training facilities, and relocation of aeronautical operations and businesses currently sited at Tinson, to Vernamfield.

Vernamfield will then move on to facilitating operations, including domestic passenger and courier services, general aviation, an aeronautical college and flight school, as well as other services consistent with its designation rating.

With its mandate as the lead Government entity for the re-establishment, the AAJ has determined that the following will be the strategic priorities:

(1) Determining the service/range of activities to be immediately transferred from the JDF at Up Park Camp and Tinson Pen;

(2) Proceed with plans and approved activities for the re-establishment of the aerodrome;

(3) Make the necessary application and obtain approval from the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA);

(4) Working in collaboration with the JDF and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) to ensure the safety and security of the re-established aerodrome;

(5) Ensuring that appropriate public consultation and stakeholder involvement are timely, adequate and appropriate. These stakeholders include- the Jamaica Race Car Drivers Association, citizens within and around the Vernamfield area, landowners and occupiers, the general public and elected officials.

The project is to be a phased development, with phase one lasting nine months, and involving plans and activities to rehabilitate the existing north-south runway for a 2B domestic aerodrome which would accommodate aircraft up to a specified size.

Activities will include rehabilitation of the concreted runway, and making it ready for JDF flights originating from and returning to Up Park Camp;

Based on physical parameters and other regulatory factors, make a determination of the parameters of the aerodrome to proceed with the re-establishment in the shortest possible time; Establishing apron and taxiing provisions for aircraft from Up Park Camp and Tinson Pen and, provide spaces for aircraft maintenance, re-fueling, etc.

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