Mr Robert Montague’s joy is well placed
Last October when American Airlines announced that it is now ready to operate a scheduled service from Miami to Ian Fleming International Airport, just outside Ocho Rios, starting February 2024, we had pointed to the booming growth in Jamaica’s tourism that contextualised that development.
We had also recalled that the original plan for the service to have started in November 2022 was delayed to facilitate navigational improvements.
However, after word came that the carrier was now ready, we had opined that the enthusiasm among tourism stakeholders, reported by this newspaper, highlighted the long-standing need to make it easier for visitors to get to places like St Mary and Portland.
That enthusiasm was again evident in the joy expressed by St Mary Western Member of Parliament Mr Robert Montague on Thursday as he watched an American Eagle aircraft complete a test flight at Ian Fleming International in advance of the scheduled service.
Mr Montague, who was one of the strongest crusaders for the airport to start welcoming scheduled international flights, is correct in his commentary that the development will be “a major economic driver” for St Mary, Portland, and Ocho Rios.
As we have pointed out before, traditionally, many, if not most of those who visit those parts — embracing some of the most scenic spots to be found anywhere in the world — are middle-aged to older Europeans. They are usually longer-stay visitors who are very much into nature tours — hiking, rafting on the Rio Grande, and so forth — in addition to experiencing some of our more pleasant, unspoilt beaches.
For many of those visitors, mixing with Jamaicans provides an added attraction.
Some people may feel that two flights weekly bringing 76 passengers each won’t make a big difference for the burgeoning visitor sector. That’s a static view.
We believe that this start by American Airlines is the beginning of an economic benefit that is going to make much larger inroads as demand for a varied Jamaican experience grows.
This newspaper’s late chairman, Mr Gordon “Butch” Stewart, must now be smiling at this aspiration coming to fruition, and we expect that his dream of an extended runway at Ian Fleming Airport to accommodate large passenger aircraft will be realised in the future.
Readers will recall that, back in 2013, Mr Stewart, the founder of Sandals Resorts International, had said: “The current runway is 4,780 feet long, but the big regional carriers… need a minimum of 5,000 to 5,700 feet. Ian Fleming needs only an additional 800 or 900 feet, which is really not much, to accommodate those big jets.
“I have talked to all these airlines and they can’t wait. They have told me they would fly to Ian Fleming the day after the runway is so extended…”
Additionally, we should remember that, in very short order, ongoing highway development will open up the eastern end of the island to rapid tourism and related economic growth.
We reiterate that our leaders and planners at central Government and local levels, and in fact all Jamaicans, should prepare themselves for the probability of a scale of expansion which some of us may not even be able to imagine right now.