By Orville Williams
Antigua Airways – branded as the first airline linking the twin island nation directly to West Africa – is set to launch in a matter of weeks, amid what’s been referred to as politically-motivated criticism of the investment.
The launch of the new carrier is scheduled to take place after an agreement was signed between the government and an African investor, Nigerian publishing firm Marvelous Mike Press Limited, back in August.
It was previously announced that plans were to have the first flight in the air by October after planes were leased and other such details were ironed out, and while there may be a slight delay in the exact start date, things are expected to get moving in short order.
Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel Hurst, was asked yesterday whether factors such as flight schedules, capacity and demand have already been worked out.
“All of that has not yet been established, but I can [assure] that we’re going to see Antigua Airways touch down at the VC Bird International Airport sometime within the next five weeks.
“They are working out all kinds of logistics, not only baggage handling, fuel, permission to fly into Antiguan airspace and so on. When they leave Antigua, the plan is to fly on to Toronto before going back to the African continent, and so they must work that in as well,” he responded.
“It’s going to be a really nice event, from what has been announced in Cabinet [on Wednesday], when that aircraft leaves the African continent – the homeland of our Antiguan ancestors,” Hurst added.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gaston Browne continues to rebuff suggestions that the airline is ‘a failure waiting to happen’ based on the apparent inexperience of the Nigerian investors who are footing the bill.
The opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) – via Leader, Harold Lovell and All Saints East and St Luke MP, Jamale Pringle, among others – have been largely critical of the investment and the investor, whose experience in operating an airline they’ve questioned.
Lovell has said too that he is concerned about the apparent haphazard nature of the formation of the new airline, based on his own experience as a former Tourism Minister.
Browne and his colleague ministers have had to defend the partnership against such criticism, insisting that it will prove beneficial, not only to Antigua and Barbuda, but also to the wider region.
In Parliament yesterday afternoon, the PM responded to questions about the government’s hand in covering the cost of the airline – questions posed by Barbuda MP, Trevor Walker.
“We have not made any monies available to Antigua Airways. What we did do though, is to list it as a CIP project and one in which we have allocated up to 10 CIP files…if and when they are subscribed to, then we will get, I believe, about 20 percent of the shares in the company.
“My understanding is that the service will start as a charter service [and] they’re also trying to have a sustained relationship with LIAT 2020, when we would have operationalised LIAT 2020.
“We’ve been told so far that the arrangements to lease the plane and to start operations are on target,” Browne said.