BVI Airport Authority
Expanding Horizons: The BVI Airports Authority’s Visionary Leap into 2024
Explore how the BVI Airports Authority is reshaping Caribbean travel with innovative strategies, collaborative efforts, and a relentless focus on enhancing the visitor experience.
The British Virgin Islands Airports Authority, a critical facilitator of the archipelago’s vibrant tourism industry, oversees a trio of airports: the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Tortola and smaller yet significant facilities on Anegada and Virgin Gorda. Kurt Menal, the Managing Director, encapsulates the authority’s scope: “We manage the primary gateway into the territory, the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, along with the airports on Anegada and Virgin Gorda. These airports are vital conduits, not just for the nearly 60 islands and cays that comprise the BVI, but also for our burgeoning tourism sector.”
Under the stewardship of the BVI government, this network of airports juggles a diverse range of responsibilities, from air traffic control to fire services, all managed by a workforce of approximately 200. The airports have historically seen around 205,000 passenger movements yearly, a figure poised to soar. “We’re on track to reach about 250,000 passengers by the end of this year, and we’re aiming for 300,000 next year,” he reveals, underscoring an ambitious growth trajectory. “Our ultimate goal is to exceed 400,000 by 2027.”
Post-COVID, the BVI Airport Authority is significantly rebounding, with Menal crediting proactive air service development and new partnerships, including those formed at recent Routes World conferences. The major milestone is securing American Airlines’ first non-stop flight from Miami, starting in June 2023, marking a historic moment for Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport and the BVI. This service is enhancing connectivity, especially from the US Eastern Seaboard.
The Authority is expanding its reach and elevating service quality, with 60% commercial traffic and 40% focusing on ultra-high-end general aviation. Virgin Gorda is welcoming Tradewinds Air’s high-end service from Puerto Rico, while Cape Air’s regular flights boost connectivity to this elite destination. Anegada maintains its exclusive status, operating primarily for charters and emergency flights.
Anticipating Upgrades and Transformations
As the British Virgin Islands Airports Authority gears up for 2024, a pivotal year of transformation and expansion looms on the horizon. The authority is responding to the increasing traffic and proactively shaping the future of air travel in the region. Menal delves into the intricacies of these upcoming changes, starting with the long-term vision of the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport.
“The long-term vision is to expand the Terrance B. Lettsome International to accommodate larger widebody aircraft, enhancing connectivity and supporting our thriving tourism sector,” he outlines. This vision includes updating the last master plan from 2017, aligning it with current realities and the ambitions of the government and the Airports Authority. “We’ve sent out requests for proposals for a business case, which will define the project scope, cost, and necessary upgrades in terms of terminal, landside, airside, and technical aspects,” he explains, highlighting the comprehensive approach being adopted.
In Virgin Gorda, a recent refurbishment of the terminal facility enhances the guest experience, embodying the authority’s commitment to providing a welcoming and efficient environment. “We’ve refreshed the customs, arrivals, and departures areas, adding a personal touch to this smaller facility,” Menal shares.
The Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport is undergoing significant enhancements. Menal announces the ongoing expansion of the departures area, including additional comfortable seating and potential new concessionaires, such as a coffee shop. Efforts to streamline arrivals by eliminating unnecessary forms and easing customs bottlenecks are underway.
The airport is revamping its facilities, with plans to relocate the Fixed Base Operator (FBO) to upgrade the Welcome Center, expand customs and immigration areas, and install a new conveyor belt. A new air traffic control system has been introduced, enhancing safety and efficiency. Plans include enlarging the parking area and expanding the ramp as part of a comprehensive master plan, signaling a transformative phase for the BVI aviation sector.
Nurturing Tourism through Strategic Partnerships
The symbiotic relationship between the British Virgin Islands Airport Authority and the tourism sector is a cornerstone of the region’s economic vitality. Menal elaborates on this crucial interplay, emphasizing the airport’s role in fostering tourism growth, a sector already surpassing global trends.
“The tourism numbers are exceptional, outpacing global averages not just in air travel but also in cruise ship and yachting visitors,” he highlights. The BVI’s unique appeal in yachting, where most rooms are on the water, underscores the region’s distinctive allure. “Of about 5500 rooms, almost 4000 are on yachts,” he adds, painting a picture of the BVI’s unique tourism landscape.
Collaboration with the BVI Tourist Board is critical to this success. Menal describes the formation of an Airlift Committee, a vital cog in the national tourism planning machinery. “The Airports Authority plays a pivotal role in this committee, directly contributing to the overall tourism development strategy,” he explains. This partnership extends to negotiating airline services at international conferences, further enhancing the BVI’s accessibility.
Menal highlights introducing a regional carrier starting in June 2024, aiming to enhance Caribbean connections and diversify tourism, catering to high-end travelers and visiting friends and relatives. The service is aimed at addressing the gap left by LIAT. WinAir is increasing its capacity, while Intercaribbean, the largest carrier at Terrance B Lettsome International Airport, is crucial in regional connectivity, offering links throughout the Caribbean and to Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo. Menal emphasizes the importance of nurturing these airline partnerships, ensuring they are mutually beneficial and support the dynamic growth of tourism in the British Virgin Islands.
Collaborative Synergy with the Ports Authority
The British Virgin Islands Airports Authority and the BVI Ports Authority, pivotal to the region’s connectivity and economic vitality, share a unique relationship, as Menal elaborates. This collaboration is a matter of logistics and a strategic alignment to boost the BVI’s appeal as a tourist destination.
“We have what could be termed a friendly competition with the Ports Authority,” he starts, outlining the nature of the relationship. Both authorities operate under the Ministry of Communications and Work, sharing the same minister and a unified mandate to enhance the economy and connectivity of the BVI. This alignment fosters a productive interplay between air and sea travel, which is crucial for the region’s accessibility.
Menal sheds light on the significant traffic flow facilitated by the Ports Authority. “Around 300,000 people annually land in Saint Thomas with the BVI as their final destination, and this movement is enabled through the Ports Authority’s facilities,” he explains. This highlights the integral role of the Ports Authority in complementing the Airports Authority’s efforts to manage tourist influx.
The collaboration extends beyond mere operational alignment. “We sit on each other’s boards, identifying and leveraging synergies wherever possible,” he says. This partnership is driven by a mutual goal to enhance the visitor experience, offering varied and high-quality travel options. “We often consult each other on issues and challenges, adopting applicable solutions from one context to another,” Menal states, painting a picture of a dynamic and responsive partnership.
Addressing Staffing Challenges in Aviation
The global pilot shortage and staffing issues in the aviation industry have been points of concern worldwide, and the British Virgin Islands have not been immune to these challenges. Menal provides insights into how these issues have affected the BVI and the innovative strategies employed to address them.
“The pilot shortage hasn’t directly impacted us since we don’t have home-based carriers,” he clarifies. However, he acknowledges that the Caribbean airlines, which service the BVI, might have faced challenges and presumably have taken steps to attract new talent.
The more pressing issue for the BVI Airports Authority has been a shortage of air traffic controllers. “It wasn’t a popular profession locally, and we found ourselves significantly understaffed, operating with just six controllers against the ideal number of twelve,” Menal shares, highlighting a critical challenge. This shortage started impacting operations, necessitating immediate action.
In response, the Authority has launched a global recruitment campaign. “We advertised aggressively worldwide and received an overwhelming response, with interest from as far as Kenya and the Philippines,” Menal recounts. This proactive approach filled the immediate gap and aimed to create a buffer, raising the number of controllers to fifteen.
Menal also emphasizes the importance of nurturing local interest in aviation careers. “We plan to introduce aviation careers, including air traffic control, to students in schools,” he says. This initiative aims to make air traffic control a compelling career choice, potentially a stepping stone to broader opportunities in aviation. “We’re engaging in school visits and job fairs to build a sustainable pool of air traffic controllers,” he adds, indicating the positive momentum this initiative is gaining.
Enhancing Guest Experience: A Comprehensive Approach
The British Virgin Islands Airports Authority, under Menal’s leadership, demonstrates a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of the tourism industry and its vital role in enriching the visitor experience. The authority’s efforts in facilitating seamless transitions from airports to local destinations are essential to this endeavor.
“The airport is an ecosystem in itself, intricately linked with the tourism industry, which is a well-organized ecosystem guided by the BVI Tourist Board,” Menal explains. This ecosystem approach is evident in the services provided at the airports. “We have three fully functioning fixed base operators (FBOs) at the airport, offering high-end services. They work closely with taxi services and tour operators, ensuring a seamless transition for visitors,” he adds.
Menal describes a seamless experience for guests arriving via general aviation, constituting 40% of airport traffic. Fixed Base Operators (FBOs) provide expert handling and coordination with local transport and luxury accommodations like The Moorings. Scheduled air carriers, accounting for 60% of traffic, also play a vital role in tourism, with many passengers being tourists with pre-arranged transportation. The Airports Authority ensures quality control of all services, closely overseen by the BVI Tourist Board.
Looking to 2024, Menal anticipates a busier year, focusing on enhancing airport services and visitor experiences to make the BVI Airports Authority self-sustaining and the preferred gateway into the BVI.
Click The Cover To View Or Download The Brochure
AT A GLANCE
BVI Airport Authority
What: A governmental entity overseeing the operation and management of three major airports in the British Virgin Islands, pivotal in facilitating regional and international travel and boosting the local tourism sector.
Where: British Virgin Islands.
MASA ASSIST – www.MASAASSIST.com
Medical emergencies can happen unexpectedly, leaving you without proper care. Patients may need to be transported to other islands or the US, resulting in costly bills. MASA understands these challenges. MASA membership covers emergency transportation costs for you and your family. No health questions, limits, or deductibles. MASA helps you handle medical emergencies anywhere. Become a member today, visit our website. www.MASAAssist.com