Shortly before 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 29, The Government of The Bahamas, and by extension the Bahamian people, became owners of the Grand Bahama International Airport (GBIA).
The sale came by way of the special purpose vehicle (SPV), Freeport Airport Development (FAD) Company Limited, created for the acquisition of the 2,500 acres property, for $1.00.
“Grand Bahamians have experienced the severe impact of hurricanes. These storms have increased in frequency and strength over the past decade. On September 2, 2019, Hurricane Dorian caused tremendous heartbreak and destruction throughout Grand Bahama. Despite storms and the devastating effects of COVID-19 on life and livelihoods, the march to recovery and the economic revival of Grand Bahama continues,” Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis told those in attendance, witnessing the signing.
“I firmly believe that every crisis brings new opportunities. I am pleased to announce today that we are delivering on our commitment to purchase the Grand Bahama International Airport. Through the Airport Authority, The Bahamas owns 29 other airports, all at various stages of development. While this airport in Grand Bahama was almost completely destroyed by Dorian, our commitment is steadfast in the rebuilding of the Grand Bahama International Airport as a world-class facility,” he added.
The prime minister maintained that the government will develop a modern facility that is designed and built to be resilient and meet the weather conditions that are experienced during the frequent storms that affect Grand Bahama.
The new facility will also enable the return of U.S. pre-clearance Dr. Minnis added.
“Grand Bahama’s economy does well when residents have access to modern infrastructure and facilities. Your economy does well when we facilitate its major industries, including manufacturing, shipping, financial services and of course, tourism. We continue to demonstrate our commitment to the revitalization of this island’s economy,” the PM said.
Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar expressed his delight in taking part in the signing over ceremony. “I am absolutely delighted to take part in this ceremony involving the acquisition of the airport for and on behalf of, first, the wonderful people of Grand Bahama and second, the strong and resilient people of The Bahamas.
“Today, ladies and gentlemen, our months and months of negotiations are finally over. The signing of the documents before us today, for ownership title of this airport, will be vested in the people of The Bahamas. Specifically, this airport will be transferred over to the Airport Authority, which, as many of you know, is a 100 percent government owned entity used by the government to retain 100 percent ownership of all of its 30 airports,” said the tourism chief.
According to D’Aguilar, the airport in Freeport was probably the last large or substantial airport in The Bahamas that was not owned by the government.
“This Minnis-led Administration and this Minister of Aviation, is of the view that this airport, the gateway into Grand Bahama, should be owned by the government. Almost every major airport, in every major city, in every country on the planet is owned by their government. That is a fact. They may, in some cases, be operated by an experienced airport operator; however, the ownership of the land, the buildings, the runways and taxiways is almost always owned by the government.
“The GBIA has been very unlucky over the past decade. We all know that this airport has been struck, I am told, three times over the last seven years by hurricanes causing, each time, tens of millions of dollars in damages,” said the minister.
“Hurricane Dorian was, to use the old adage, the straw that broke the camel’s back. After the passage of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, the current owners expressed an intense desire to exit the ownership and operation of this airport. It was the view of this government that for the reasons already mentioned, the Government of The Bahamas was the only eligible purchaser.
“The Bahamian taxpayers and especially the taxpayers in Grand Bahama, have all been informed that the purchase price of the airport is $1, plus the assumption of a portion of staff related costs which should not exceed $1 million.
“The Airport Authority is purchasing almost 2,500 acres of land, an 11,000-foot long runway that was recently resurfaced, taxiways, ramps, some building etcetera,” D’Aguilar disclosed.
“I will let you all come to your own conclusion on whether that is a good deal, but I am an astute businessman and I can tell you, that standing here today, it seems like a great deal to me,” stated the Minister of Tourism and Aviation.
Noting that the signing of the acquisition documents and purchasing the island’s sole airport is quite simple, the tourism minister said that the real work comes in ensuring that the airport, moving forward, will not only become fully functional but also be renovated in such a way that it will be able to withstand future weather systems.
“Where do we go from here? It makes no sense to purchase this airport and not realize that your very first step will be designing an airport that is far more resilient to hurricanes. We must build back a facility that can sustain wind speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour and is not wiped out by storm surges in excess of 20 feet.
“Everyone has a theory on how to build in that resiliency, but airport consultants who are experts in the field will be hired and advise the government on what to do so that when we build back this time, we build an airport that will last and not be prone to be swept away with the next significant storm surge.”
Also, according to the minister, as the Airport Authority owns the Nassau Airport Development (NAD) Company which redeveloped the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) in Nassau, the Airport Authority will formulate the SPV, Freeport Airport Development (FAD) Company to redevelop and operate the GBIA.
“I am happy to report that there is already widespread global international interest in partnering with the Government of The Bahamas in the redevelopment of this airport using the PPP (public private partnership) model,” D’Aguilar concluded.
Minister of State for Grand Bahama, Sen. J. Kwasi Thompson said, “Today, we have crossed over into our new day for Grand Bahama. Today is really an historic day for Grand Bahama. I say that not only as the Minister of State for Grand Bahama, but I also say that as a Grand Bahamian. It is a special day for Grand Bahamians.
“I believe that Grand Bahama is ready to take flight.”
Acting Chairman of the GBPA Sarah St. George also brought remarks during the ceremony noting that Thursday’s signing marked a new era of aviation for Freeport, adding the acquisition was long overdue and welcomed.
“I would like to thank and congratulate the prime minister and his government on this very tangible demonstration of their commitment to the future of the Island of
Grand Bahama. From a national standpoint, this represents such an obvious opportunity to promote, coordinate and integrate airlift into Grand Bahama with the wider Bahamas.
“The potential synergies under government ownership are infinite. It will no longer be a standalone facility; this will drive new policies and economies of scale, to passenger and tourist arrivals by air, in a collaborative way with Nassau and other islands. Systems and new technologies can be implemented. Bulk purchase of aviation fuel could be more cost effective; potentially airfares could decrease,” St. George said.