What About the Airport? |
The new airport, during the PRG period and sometime after, was named the Port Salines International Airport (PSIA). When you visit Grenada you fly into the Maurice Bishop International Airport [MBIA]. MBIA is the second airport built in Grenada and superceded Pearls Airport in Grenville. The Point Salines International Airport officially opened as announced by His Excellency, the Governor-General Sir Paul Scoon on 28 October 1984, and the renaming to the Maurice Bishop International Airport was officially made on 30 May 2009.
In 1970, when Unison Whiteman and Ian Francis were publishing Forum, the 31 July 1970, Vol. 1 No. 9 issue ran an article on p. 3 and p. 9 titled WHY AN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT By ; no author given. Other priorities, accord to the column, took priority over an international airport at Pt. Salines.
A problem has persisted. In former days, all persons flying by air to Grenada had to transit through Barbados or Trinidad and Tobago. Night landings were forbidden by civil aeronautics authorities on Pearls runway. This is because of the high hills, mostly north, south and west. Passengers and tourists were forced to make connections before sunset or spend the night in Barbados or Trinidad.
The visitor usually flew to Barbados, stayed overnight and got on a Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) flight to Pearls Airport. The trip on LIAT got so bad people started calling the airline Leaving Island Any Time. Geoffrey Wagner in his 'Red Calypso" wrote about transfer "to a small and uncomfortable Rolls-Royce Avro 748 turbo-prop of LIAT, a line that has regularly lost luggage . . ."
Pearls Airport above Grenville is 23 miles from St. George's, the capital. Singham described the trip took "forty minutes' driving over a narrow, winding mountain road to reach the airport from the capital, St. George's."
Most times, the visitor had to take a tortuous hour ride on bus or expensive taxi to St. George's or Grand Anse where the hotels are clustered. And when luggage did not get transferred, too bad; the visitor had to go back to Pearls to pick their luggage up later.
Obviously a modern civilian airport was urgently needed. The idea for a new airport in the South is the island had been investigated and discussed throughout the years of the Gairy Government; most notably, as reported by Alister Hughes -
"On the expenditure side [of a Grenada draft budget of April 1977], reconstruction of the Pearls Airport Terminal Building and apron will absorb $1,935,000; a new airport (which probably will be built at the south end of the island) will cost $1,010,000; $3,100,000 for water improvements; $5,965,000 to road works and a medium housing scheme has been allocated $1 million."
The new airport project, a dream and vision for Prime Minister Maurice Bishop under the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG), was slated to provide full-time work during construction. The related investments in new skills and infrastructure were waiting, along with increased import and export traffic, not to speak of tourism.
Bonds to aid funding of the new airport were sold.
The United States made its accusations; specifically, opposition to the airport for Cuban/Soviet refueling, support facilitation and trans-shipment potentialities. The long 10,000 foot runway could be used for military purposes, they said . . . Angola, Nicaragua, Latin America is what they had in mind.
On the other hand, a partially declassified FOIA report titled "Soviet Geopolitical and Military Interests in Grenada and Suriname," produced by the CIA, reported on 21 April 1983 that -
The new international airport at Point Salines on Grenada's southern coast is scheduled for completion by early 1984. We are unaware of any direct Soviet involvement in the project; Cuba has provided the bulk of the labor and equipment for the construction of the $80 million facility.
US President Ronald Reagan spoke about the airport first in "Remarks on Central America and El Salvador at the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers" on 10 March 1983. Fred Ikle made a presentation to the US Senate Intelligence Committee on 14 March 1983 showing aerial photographs.
Reagan, on 23 March 1983, made 'An Address to the Nation' on television. This is known as the 'Star Wars' speech where Reagan showed a 'declassified aerial photograph' of the airport. Before a joint session of Congress on 27 April 1983, Reagan expanded further on potential uses of the airport.
The news of these 'revelations' was presented with gravity and widely publicized.
Meanwhile the People's Revolutionary Government was in a financial crisis. The International Airport had many categories of support, from Grenadian citizen bonds to massive aid from Cuba [financed by a loan in November 1981 with the Government of Iraq], but, despite further Cuban contributions, cash was running out. On 26 September 1983, Maurice Bishop sent a letter to 'Brother Gaddafi' along with a Grenadian delegation which included Nelson Louison, Lyden Ramdhanny and another official explaining, in part:
The airport is of extreme importance to our revolutionary process. It's (sic) completion and official opening on March 13, 1984, the 5th Anniversary of our Revolution will be a striking victory over U.S. imperialism which has worked and continues to work relentlessly to stop the advances of the Grenadian Revolutionary process.
Plessey Ltd., a major company working at Point Salines, stated that the 9,000 foot runway is designed to the standards and practices of the International Civil Aviation Organization. Word is that in the 1970s when the airport was planned, the 747s then required a long runway. To fit ICAO recommendations, the runway was extended to 10,000 feet, with provision to potential extension even further.
A statement from the British electronics company Plessey on 1 November 1983 listed eleven facilities that a military airbase would need:
- a parallel taxiway
- arrangements for dispersed parking
- hardened aircraft shelters for protection against bomb blast
- a secure set of underground fuel tanks
- underground weapons storage
- surface to air missile sites or other anti-aircraft defence
- perimeter security,
- an operational readiness platform with rapid access
- aircraft engineering workshops
- major stores and aircraft arrester gear.
None of these items existed at Point Salines, Plessey said.
The Managing Director of Plessey Airports Limited (U.K), wrote a letter to The Times [of London]. In the letter from D.S. Collier, 8 November 1983, the Plessey executive denied any military purposes for the airfield by pointing out the vulnerability of the fuel storage facilities erected above ground. He explained the noticeably acute shortage of tourist beds by asserting that hotel developers were holding back until the airport was completed.
After the incursion of U.S. and Caribbean Peace Keeping forces, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz held a press conference on 7 February 1984 during which he said -
From my standpoint, having landed there [at Point Salines] and looked around, it certainly is a facility that is needed here and, one way or another, I'm sure will be completed
And the new airport was completed.
Point Salines International Airport opened 28 October 1984 for jet aircraft and night landings. The opening came nearly 5 years to the day after groundbreaking and one year, three days after U.S. forces landed. The U.S. sent nearly $20 million and Canada about $5 million for the $71 million project that had been about three-quarters completed by Cuba.
A breakdown example from a 1984 Grenada Newsletter:
TOTAL ESTIMATED COST US$71 million
Cuba contributed US$33.6 million
Grenada Government US$14.2 million
Iraq lending US$5 million
Balance OPEC, EEC, Venezuela, Algeria, Syria and Libya
USA US$19 million
Canada US$6 million
Maurice Bishop Highway Sign, ©Ann Wilder, 2007 [since removed]
The sign above marks the road to the international airport. The Point Salines International Airport [PSIA]was renamed the Maurice Bishop International Airport [MBIA] on 30 May 2009. The welcoming sign below is at the entrance to the newly named Maurice Bishop International Airport.
Airport Welcome Sign, ©Alain Moinet, 2009