~ With ‘aerotropolis’ vision as future structure ~
By Michael R. Granger
AIRPORT--With the mobilisation of demolition equipment on Friday, March 28, the management of Princess Juliana International Airport SXM will move to a significant stage in its capital improvement programme, as it moves to push SXM airport to the top of the region’s jet-set hierarchy.
The US $132-million bond acquired in January 2013 anchors investments that will realise in 2014 the construction of a fixed-based operator (FBO) facility to handle private jets, a new fire station, an expanded and upgraded cargo building, a new Meteorological Office building, a jogging path and a new technical building (in 2015).
The demolition work on the current fire station will begin on Friday and eventually it will be replaced with an expanded state-of-the-art station.
The new station, in accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed recently with Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, also will house a fire substation for the island government and will serve as a substation for the Ambulance Department. The airport’s fire house will be fully equipped with training rooms, sleeping and other quarters for men and women, and other amenities.
When the current fire station is demolished, St. Maarten’s first FBO facility will be constructed at that location. It will have all the services (Immigration, etc.) and amenities high-end customers expect and will go a long way in increasing this market share.
The new two-storey FBO facility also will be constructed to accommodate a possible third FBO operator if SXM board of management ever decides to go that route. A possible third operator would operate from the second floor of the new facility.
Final renovation of Turtle Pier, which the airport has purchased, is almost complete. This will facilitate the temporary housing of the Met Office and the Civil Aviation Department.
An MOU making this possible was signed with the airport by former minister responsible for aviation Romeo Pantophlet.
Once the new Met Office facility adjacent to the ATS facility is completed the new Met Office will be relocated there permanently. The airport also will build what is known as an inflation building to house the weather balloon, again relieving the island government of the financial obligation of having to build such a structure.
The upgraded cargo building will feature a more organised layout and parking, additional office spaces and a different system of storage (racking), making optimal use of space. It also will feature a local food concessionaire. Construction is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2014.
SXM Airport also is investing in a jogging path, complete with irrigation and proper drainage and lighting, that will stretch from the Winair offices to the causeway roundabout. Agreements for the finalisation of a new fuel farm are almost in place and LED lighting will be placed along Airport Boulevard from the area of the Red Cross building to in front of the airport terminal. This is another community investment the airport is making.
As for the retail stores on the air and land side of the airport, this is progressing well with the majority of the units accounted for. The remaining seven will be filled in the third quarter of this year.
Airport Managing Director Regina LaBega recently painted the future at the airport’s 70th Anniversary Symposium as the airport developing into a city of sorts for travellers.
“Imagine,” she said, “that all those jetsetters bound for Anguilla and St. Barths who normally come in about this time of the year to escape the cold and bask in the warmth of the Caribbean sun park their Citation, Lear and other private aircrafts at the present location of the Met Office, which by now has been moved closer to the ATS Tower with which it shares a natural synergy. A new ultramodern FBO facility will be erected here.
“Imagine that as a result of close cooperation with our Justice Ministry and the relevant authorities in Anguilla and St. Barths, these passengers are processed quickly through Immigration, with a pre-clearance for those hub partners. They then come out of SXM Terminal Building and jump on a yacht or boat that will take them in a short, smooth sailing to those destinations where they no longer have to go through the hassle of another Immigration check.”
She suggested that visitors bound for the northern half of the island would be “ferried to their hotels or private accommodation without having to endure any rush-hour traffic on our roads” if they choose not to drive on the new causeway.
LaBega further threw out the idea of “all the car rental companies along the Airport Boulevard relocating to a brand-new full-service Car Park Centre where passengers can pick up and drop off their rental cars, and where the companies can operate virtually out of the airport with more efficiency and cost-effectiveness.”
In addition, she proposed a “5-star hotel built at the airport, with a well-equipped convention centre and other modern facilities where, apart from events such as conferences, even weddings could be held.”
“Welcome to SXM Airport City!” LaBega proclaimed. “Princess Juliana International Airport is no longer a city airport, but a genuine airport city. Not only do planes take off and land in quick succession here, but all around there is a constant buzz of economic activity. SXM Airport City is not just a transportation infrastructure, but a reliable engine of sustainable economic development, catering to at least seven hub destinations.
“None of this would be possible without the involvement and the enlightened cooperation of the community of Simpson Bay. This involvement and cooperation has so far been readily and willingly offered.”
John Kasarda, the leading proponent of the aerotropolis concept in the world, explained at the same symposium that airports had become multimodal multifunctional economic engines driving commercial development well beyond their boundaries.
He expressed confidence that the management of SXM Airport was on the right path and reiterated, in response to questions from the audience, that size was not necessarily an impediment, while speed in decision-making and action was a sure way to success.
Smaller airports have been adopting and adapting the aerotropolis model, Kasarda said. Even airports that have space limitations are developing in the direction of a structure that looks more like an airport city or aerotropolis, he said.
Airports in Asia, the Middle East and Europe have been transforming themselves rapidly into airport cities. Singapore (SIN) is a prime example in Asia, with Schiphol in Amsterdam (AMS), Charles de Gaulle (CDG) in Paris and Frankfurt (FRA) in Germany as the models in Europe. US airports, and almost by extension those in the Caribbean, are quite behind where this concept is concerned.
These airports, particularly Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle, are run on a private-public sector partnership and usually are devoid of political interference. They have organisations like the Schiphol Group, Fraport or Aeroports de France that basically do business like private-sector companies do, not the way governments do business. However, coordination between all stakeholders is central to the successful development of an airport city, Kasarda stressed.
The driving force behind the aerotropolis model is the route structure; in other words, connectivity. Airports with more connectivity – that is, the number of markets/destinations they serve multiplied by the frequency of service to those markets – obviously will attract more aviation-related business to the airports than those with less connectivity.
However, enhancing the passenger experience is fundamental in this scenario, as it not only will lead to increased revenues, but also could attract even more passengers. Kasarda suggested that hub airports should improve their status by reducing cost for airlines that service them and focusing on increasing non-aeronautical revenue sources.
The time may come, he said, when rather than airlines paying landing fees, it would be the airports that would pay the airlines for bringing passengers to them.