In 2002 the Government of Antigua and Barbuda took the unprecedented step of selling close to 36 acres of lands within the airport secure zone to R. Allen Stanford. That was the first move that eventually led to the sale of the same lands to resolve the debts left by the R. Allen Stanford. In what many referred to the the short sightedness of the Government to secure the lands, a local family-owned business and its principal shareholder Makeda Mikael became the owner of 80% of the lands on the disused Runway 10 after a lengthy court battle.
According to Michael, for many years, via proposals, petitions and any viable means, the local company has sought to have the lands placed back within the ownership of the Government and the airport to no avail. Neither the United Progressive Party (UPP) administration nor the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party ALP, in its previous name and current, have been willing to reverse the land ownership, despite the advice of many aviation experts and obvious indicators that this is indeed a unique situation in international airport security. As previous owners of the Fixed Base Operation (FBO), Michael says the security of disused Runway 10 became the financial burden of the local FBO, and the then Stanford Development Company (SDC). Reports state that Stanford’s freedom to do financial business without regulatory oversight on his own “airport”, with his own “Customs”, and his friendly Government waivers, ultimately contributed R. Allen Stanford’s serious trouble with the U.S. Authorities, ending him in jail in America.
Although it has been admitted by members of the Government that the original sale of the lands was due to serious failure in the airport analysis of the period, the Government has not been persuaded to find a creative way to re-purchase the property from the local company. Rather, the last piece of the lands owned by Stanford, located in the secure zone of the airport on Runway 10, is rumoured to be in the process of being sold by the Stanford Liquidators with the blessings of the Government.
After fighting to have the lands returned to the airport for no less than 15 years, Michael say that she has now realized that the dream of one airport land owner (the Government) is just that, a dream. She has recently proposed a possible resolution which could make the lands considered within the airport secure zone a private sector economic reality, in conjunction with the airport and the Government. The company is proposing that the Government endorses the area called Disused Runway 10 as an Aviation Economic Zone, which will allow private ownership to coexist within the Secure Zone of the Airport. An extension of what exists today.
Under the proposal, the private sector will have the platform to do business within the secure zone of the airport through aviation real estate opportunities. These opportunities are described as one-off aero-businesses which can only happen if there is space within an airport to accommodate them. She says that several opportunities exist for companies whose proximity to the airport allows them to make a profit from the easy accessibility.
In an effort to stimulate investment in the aviation related markets, Makeda Mikael the principal of the companies, Antigua Hangars Inc. (owner of the lands), and Bizjet-To-Yacht Antigua Inc., the operations company, has decided to open up the area to development and has begun inviting companies and investors to apply. She says that she is convinced that a vibrant aviation commercial space which offers a nexus with the marine build-up on Shell Beach and the development of the North-shore islands can propel Antigua forward in its aviation leadership in the region.
The proposal has been described as an “unique opportunity” for Antigua and Barbuda and could represent a major shift in the way aviation businesses develop and operate in the Caribbean. The Government has not provided any feedback on the proposal as yet.