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Bristol: Chinese airport loan “raises issue of bubul”

Attorney-at-law-Jimmy Bristol

A leading Grenada attorney-at-law has raised concerns about the multi-million dollar loan that the Keith Mitchell-led government has committed the Grenada Airport Authority (GAA) to take from Mainland China for the upgrade of the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA).

Bristol who has worked in the aviation industry for 12 years as an Aircraft maintenance engineer and a member of the MBIA Board of Directors is doubtful about the airport ability to repay the loan which is said to be over $150 million.

In an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY, the city barrister-at-law pointed out that the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Mitchell is cash-strapped and cannot even pay the estimated EC$200 million due to WRB Enterprises on the Grenlec issue.

He questioned the rationale of the administration “to take on now a new burden for the airport” in light of the sharp decline in world travel in the tourism sector.

Bristol stated that this is a crisis time due to Covid-19 in which the Aviation world has contracted with airports being shut globally almost daily because they cannot afford to continue to operate as before.

He said the experts in the industry have acknowledged that “there is now a new world in the aviation industry” and it is not business as usual.

The Chinese loan will be used to build a parallel taxi-way at MBIA, construct a loading bridge and upgrade the terminal facilities.

According to Bristol, St Maarten has the busiest airport in the Caribbean by far but is operating without a parallel taxi way.

He warned the authorities in Grenada to consider the fact that the projections which existed before Covid-19 to expand airports have since “been torn up given the new realities facing the industry”.

He said the buzz word should not be expansion of airport facilities but innovation “to see how we can attract people to Grenada”.

Stating that an airport building does not attract people to a country, Bristol said that the issue that should be considered at the moment is whether Grenada can realise increased traffic at MBIA in order to repay the Chinese loan.

Bristol expressed grave doubts that MBIA needs at the moment a parallel taxi-way that allows one plane to land while another is being prepared to take-off at the same time.

He said that prior to Covid, the busiest period at the airport was during a short 4-5 hour period with three international flights on the ground on some days – American Airlines, JetBlue and British Airways.

“Do we need a parallel taxi-way? The answer is no. St Maarten has the busiest airport in the Caribbean – St Maarten does not have a parallel taxi-way. The conclusion – you do not need a parallel taxi-way more so in Grenada where at any given time you might have 3 international flights on the ground.

“There is never a queue of planes waiting to take off such that it decreases the efficiency of the airport or bothers the airline so far as scheduling is concerned to keep their slots at their arrival destination… so that’s (Parallel taxi-way) a non-starter.

On the issue of the Loading bridges, Bristol scoffed at the plan as MBIA is not as busy as St. Lucia’s Hewanorra International Airport at Vieux Fort which has no loading bridge.

He said that a loading bridge does not bring people to an island and is something that is essential in countries with colder climates for weather purpose including persistent rain.

“The cost of putting in a loading bridge for the number of persons that you will get makes no sense,” he added.

Apart from the installation cost involved, according to Bristol there is also the maintenance cost to be considered since it is not cheap.

He said: “You have to have expert operators at the loading bridge, you have to have increased insurance at the loading bridge because they can cause damage to the plane when they have to go up against it. You have all of these things to take into account”.

Bristol disclosed that airlines are not asking for loading bridges at MBIA but for reasonable landing fees and that a loading bridge is just a waste of time.

The attorney-at-law told THE NEW TODAY that the terminal at MBIA needs upgrading but this can be done through prudent management and in a very cost-effective manner.

On reports that part of the expansion at the airport includes the construction of a hotel, Bristol had serious reservations.

He said: “We are not a hub. We have all (these hotels) around the south or close to the airport. Why do we have to put a hotel at the airport when all the other hotels are within 10 minute drive?

“And because we are not a hub, will someone want to come on holiday and stay at the airport? No, they want to be by the beach. So how are you going to pay for the hotel?

“I know that is a fact that they want to put a hotel (at MBIA) because I was involved in some transaction with the very government, with the very Wendy Francette-Williams (MBIA Manager) for a client of mines … so that is not hear say that is the truth.

Bristol feared that Grenada could end up like some of the African states like Kenya who could not repay loans taken from China for so-called developmental projects and had to renegotiate.

He said that some of these countries at the end of the day were forced to give the Chinese the institutions to run on a lease as part of the payback.

“You may very well find the Chinese are running Maurice Bishop (International) Airport on a lease and we may no longer have our airport that we fought for and it is our national pride but we give it to the Chinese because we can’t pay them back,” he added.

According to Bristol, somebody in the NNP administration knows more than what is being told to the people on the airport deal with the Chinese.

“I challenge the government and I will sit with them across the table … I challenge all of the Ministers together and me one to justify the economic cost of this proposed MBIA expansion. I challenge them to that.

“I am really incensed that we are being taken for fools. As they say they’re mamaguying us. We really have to stand up to this nonsense.

Bristol said that on the face of it, the contracting of the Chinese loan for MBIA appears to be some kind of hanky-panky business by the NNP regime.

“It raises issue of bubul in my view,” he remarked.

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