The new VC Bird International Airport is set to become an international gateway; the terminal can more than double the 800,000 passengers previously passing, and has become the first solar-powered airport in the region. What role will it play in terms of socio-economic development?
The airport’s role is critical for development in Antigua. You cannot have a country with no gateway to enhance it. It was operating at full capacity, and for that reason we needed to expand. We moved from a building for just under a million to a building that will accommodate up to 2.5 million as it develops, and It’s critical for us to maintain this development to stimulate growth in the economy.
Antigua and Barbuda’s location is an important element in its competitiveness, and the new airport shows willingness to capitalise on this. What is the country’s potential as a logistics hub?
Because of Antigua’s location, it is one of the first places an airline reaches coming from Europe.
Its location on the cusp of the Eastern Caribbean is natural for distribution. With LIAT as the regional carrier, it’s a natural feed for North American and European airlines transferring passengers from Antigua to the Eastern Caribbean and beyond.
Your mission is to turn VC Bird International Airport into the gateway of choice for the region and beyond. How has this progressed in your first year and what are the challenges?
Constructing the new building has provided a stimulus, but it’s not just running an airport. We want the airport to be efficient. We want the processing to be efficient. To be the airport of choice, we need both infrastructure and processes.
For passenger services, we have one of the best executive lounges in the Caribbean: we recently received the Bronze Award from Virgin. We have a sophisticated infrastructure. New loading bridges will improve our processing and our baggage break up system is one of the best in the Caribbean.
What can you tell us about your strategy for investment and expansion? Barbuda is also waiting for its new airport to be developed, can you tell us a bit more about that?
In terms of expansion, we will never sit on our laurels, there is always room for expansion.
In terms of development, we have just completed a reuse plan for the old terminal that will harmonise it with the new one. We are also looking at additional loading bridges so that we can meet all our passengers’ needs. Our passengers should be able to embark and disembark without inclement weather, and this is served by loading bridges.
Regards Barbuda, their airport can only handle small aircraft. Development needs an airport which can handle Category C aircraft, a 737 at least.
Developing human capital is key in the commercial aviation industry. With direct impact on safety, customer service, etc. What can you tell us about your approach to training staff?
In formulating a staff training programme, we analyzed different areas of the organization to allocate duties effectively.
Operations is a good example: operations officers are responsible for safety on the air side but they should also be knowledgeable about infrastructure and airport development. Our approach is to ensure everyone within a group is trained in operations. Likewise we train staff in specialised equipment, reducing our dependency on outsourcing maintenance.
The success of the new airport is there for everyone to see. What is your leadership philosophy? How do you motivate your employees?
I am a strong believer in teamwork and that success comes from a leader who empowers. Each person at this airport should have a sense of pride, because this airport is theirs. Their contribution is vital not only for the airport but for Antigua and Barbuda as a whole.
Mr. Smith, what is your closing message to the readers of Newsweek?
That the V.C. Bird International Airport is one of the most efficient and state of the art in the region. Our location makes us advantageous for transit travel, but Antigua and Barbuda itself is a premier tourist destination. This attracts passengers to our port, and our customer service adds to a great passenger experience.