Fears for airport workers as flights cease

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By Machela Osagboro

News that commercial flights are to cease at VC Bird International Airport is causing concern about the adverse effects on staff and airport revenue in the coming months.

A Cabinet release on Wednesday revealed that the airport would be closed to “all incoming commercial air traffic commencing midnight March 26th thereby ending flights from North America and Europe”.

It added, “commercial air carriers that choose to fly empty aircraft to Antigua after Thursday will be allowed to enter in order to collect citizens of their respective countries for return to their originating cities”.

The Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority’s CEO, Euletta Francis, told Observer that not all of the airport’s operations will cease. But she said she did not foresee that the pandemic would have such an adverse effect on business – and expressed alarm at the coronavirus’s fast spread in countries across the globe.

In January, when local mitigation measures were first put in place, “we were saying that the Caribbean is low risk and the challenge for us has been the fact that we went from low risk to high risk very quickly and that has created a significant challenge for the airport,” Francis said.  

“Directly and indirectly all of the major revenue streams are tied to operations at the airport. We are a landlord as well because we rent space to the airport and, as a landlord, if your tenants have no operations, what can you do,” she said.

The CEO shared that the authority’s principle source of income is flight ticket tax, which is 88 per cent of its revenue earned. She estimated that the airport will lose about 90 per cent of its overall revenue.

Francis said her main concern is the future operation of the terminal and the wellbeing of staff members who will also be affected.

“What we have done with the staff at the frontline is do our best to try and sensitise staff in the different areas because it is not one size fits all and we attempted to see how best we can mitigate against whatever the possibilities are,” said Francis. 

 She added that talks are ongoing with lenders as the airport seeks to mitigate the current crisis.

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