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New fire station, control tower in Grand Case Airport plans

MARIGOT--A new fire station building and an extension to the control tower are among projects due to start this year at Grand Case Airport, falling within an approximate 4.5-million-euro budget for improvements that include renovation of the terminal building, the airport's Managing Director Mongi Djouba disclosed Thursday.

The fire station construction is expected to start at the end of April in the same location as the old premises. The control tower will be extended upwards close to 10 metres in height from the present four metres, giving controllers a higher and better view of aircraft movements.

Renovation work to the terminal building will start in phases some time in July for completion in June 2016.

"We will start with the management and administration offices, as that will not disrupt the passenger flow and processes of immigration, check-ins and security," Djouba explained. "Then in the low season around September we can start gradually with the renovation in those other areas: check-in, immigration, security etc. In all there will be three to four phases."

Very noticeable is the closure of the airport's only café by the Préfecture at the end of 2014 for non-conformity with hygiene and sanitary regulations. Whether the concession-holder now has made the changes to pass a new inspection was not exactly clear, but Djouba said the café fell under the renovation plan for the terminal building.

Invitations to tender for a more upmarket restaurant with hot and cold food and beverages will be sent out, and for new shops, for which there are five spaces. A new restaurant, which may not be in the same location, would not open before the terminal building is finished in 2016.

"It does require a restaurant that is attractive and lively and operates between 7:00am and 7:00pm," he said.

In the meantime, vending machines have been installed for passengers' convenience.

Extension of the runway from 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet in phase two will attract more traffic and more business, but this is still under negotiation between the Collectivité and the landowner over purchase of the required parcel of land. Djouba admits his hands are tied on this point and he can only wait despite regularly enquiring on progress.

An extended runway also will permit nighttime landings with the assistance of a GNSS guidance system for pilots.

A 6,000-sqare-metre new parking apron at the airport already was laid in January 2014 at a cost of two million euros, as well as an apron for Corail Helicopters.

Currently the airport has parking for 90 cars and there are 10 car rental companies. More parking would have to be created if and when the runway is extended. There are four airline counters and eight check-in desks, a lot for a small airport. This is because Air Antilles and Air Caraïbes often require four desks each during peak periods.

The current baggage carousel will be renewed and moved into the centre of the arrival hall instead of where it is presently, half in and half out of the building.

Mongi Djouba took over the management of the airport in July 2012 under the umbrella of the airport operator, Canadian group SNC Lavalin which has a team of some 27 personnel at the airport. In French this type of operating contract is called a Delegation Service Publique (DSP).

Djouba is an engineer and airport designer by trade, having worked previously in Jeddah and Oman.

Despite less-than-stellar figures for arrivals and departures – 192,000 in 2014, three per cent less than figures for 2013 and a far cry from 211,000 in 2011 when SNC Lavalin took over the contract – Djouba believes the investments made now will revive the airport's fortunes in the future.

"We believe 100 per cent in the future and potential of the airport and the investment we are making in it," he said. "For me it's a personal mission to bring these projects to fruition."

He attributes the decrease in traffic to a number of contributing factors.

"Voyager has a new high speed ferry to St. Barths and obviously it's cheaper to pay 40 euros than 140 euros on St. Barths Commuter. Another reason is the loss of the transfer of Corsair passengers to Grand Case from Guadeloupe. This was done previously by Air Antilles, but apparently they lost the code-sharing agreement to Air Caraïbes.

"But Air Caraïbes keeps some 40 to 100 seats for Corsair passengers on the airbus flight to Princess Juliana [International Airport SXM – Ed.] without the need for the transfer from Guadeloupe," he said.

Djouba said taxes also had clearly impacted traffic negatively. The infamous 10 euro departure tax imposed on airlines by former Collectivité President Alain Richardson in 2012 on top of the 11 euro airport tax nearly saw the departure of Air Caraïbes and Air Antilles to Princess Juliana. The ensuing outcry led to the tax being reduced to six euros for six months and then it went up again to 10 euros.

"It was a nightmare, I had just arrived and I was in the middle of these negotiations between the airlines and the Collectivité," he recalled. "It wasn't acceptable at that time to the airlines and they played this cat-and-mouse game with the Collectivité, but in the end they had no choice. I admit I was scared that if we lost both airlines we would be dead."

SNC Lavalin's 25-year contract with Grand Case Airport extends to 2036. Djouba hopes the airport will reach the objective of 350,000 passengers annually before that.

The current project is being financed by SNC Lavalin and partly by European funds (FEDER) and the State.

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