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Ian Fleming International Airport can unlock tourism potential — Stewart

BY KARENA BENNETT Business reporter bennettk@jamaicaobserver.com
Saturday, June 20, 2015

CEO of Sandals Resorts International (SRI) Adam Stewart is supporting his father's call for the development of the underutilised Ian Fleming International Airport, citing that the move will be the beginning of major infrastructure development to the eastern side of the island.

In 2013, SRI chairman Gordon "Butch" Stewart, along with a team of Jamaican businessmen and women, extended their assistance to Government for the development of the St Mary-based airport to accommodate commercial aircraft.

In his address, Stewart stated that the expansion would make travel much more convenient for citizens and tourists wanting to visit the north-eastern end of the island.

"Of the 35,000 hotel rooms in Jamaica, 10,000 are in Ocho Rios," the chief executive stated in agreement with his father's evaluation for the development of the airport during the first of a two-day CIBC First Caribbean Infrastructure Conference titled 'Unlocking Economic Potential' at the Hyatt Ziva Hotel, Montego Bay.

"Even with the new highway it takes two hours if the bus drivers are adhering to the speed limit to get to Ocho Rios. Two hours after a long flight from New York with children is less than ideal," Stewart stated.

He added that with only 400 hotel rooms on the eastern side of the island, the expansion of the current 4,780-foot-long runway would attract larger aircraft from airlines such as American Airlines, Air Canada, USAIR, Jet Blue and Delta -- while triggering unprecedented development of the Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, Highgate, Annotto Bay regions and beyond.

"Certainly as the largest operator of hotels in Jamaica, we are going to unlock the value of the eastern side of Jamaica which is one of the most beautiful parts of Jamaica -- and that airport is the beginning of realising that dream," he said.

Over the years, there have been numerous calls for the expansion of the airport at Boscobel, and in 2009 the project to upgrade the airport into an international port of entry was approved by Cabinet and budgeted at $310.9 million, according to the Airports Authority of Jamaica's annual report 2011.

The project included an extension of the runway, upgrading and widening of the original 3000-foot runway air strip, new terminal building -- as the existing terminal building was grossly inadequate and encroached on the runway strip, apron construction for airport parking and taxiway, among other elements.

However, more recent reports by the Airports Authority of Jamaica indicate that the airport remains below potential because of the limited space to accommodate the expansion. Additionally, the proposed extension could take the runway across the North Coast Highway, which currently runs alongside the airport.

Ian Fleming International Airport at Boscobel in St Mary was named after the British author of the James Bond novels, who lived at Golden Eye in nearby Oracabessa. It is the third international airport in Jamaica after Sangster International in Montego Bay and Norman Manley in Kingston. The airport had a total of 2,072 passengers in 2014, an increase of 24.5 per cent over the previous year, according to the Economic and Social Survey 2014.

"From our point of view Boscobel costs the Government of Jamaica money every year," Stewart stated, adding that the runway is 2000 feet short
of accommodating larger aircraft.

"We are going to unlock the potential of the eastern side and then incrementally expand with the development in tourism. We are not saying that it is going to be a major airport, but it can bring a lot of value to Jamaica," Stewart said.

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