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Pressure to re-open MBIA

Maurice Bishop International Airport

Grenada is said to be under pressure from the major airlines in the United States and United Kingdom to re-open its Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) at Point Salines to allow them to start resuming flights from early May.

An authoritative source told THE NEW TODAY newspaper that American Airlines, JetBlue, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are believed to be pressing the authorities in Grenada for the airport to open after it was closed last month as part of the island’s efforts to combat the deadly coronavirus.

The source said that the U.S Carriers in particular have accepted a financial bailout package to remain in business due to a deal stuck with the US government of President Donald Trump which is trying to re-open the U.S economy for business despite the Coronavirus pandemic.

This newspaper has checked the itinerary of the airlines which shows them advertising flights into MBIA from as early as May.

  • American Airlines has a flight listed from May 7 originating from JFK International in New York, into Miami International Airport and then to Grenada at a cost of US$343.00 return.
  • JetBlue is offering a direct flight from May 7 out of JFK direct to Grenada for $338.80 return.
  • Virgin Atlantic has scheduled a flight from May 11 out of Gatwick in the UK passing through St Lucia then into MBIA at a cost of US$560.17.
  • BA is offering a flight from June 24 at a cost of US$672.17 into St. George’s with one stop in St. Lucia.
  • Caribbean Airlines is also advertising a one way flight for US$149.01 from JFK in New York, passing through Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and then to MBIA.

U.S Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has announced that ten U.S. airlines, including the four largest, have signaled their intention to participate in the Payroll Support Program that will distribute upwards of US$25 billion to passenger airlines.

The funds will be used exclusively to pay employees but there is a separate US $25b allocated for loans to the airlines, as well as payroll support for cargo airlines.

Over half of the payroll funds, 58%, are to be allocated to three carriers – American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines.

A well-placed source told THE NEW TODAY that the government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell is aware of the flight itinerary being advertised by the airlines but has not issued any public pronouncement on the issue as it is has found itself in a very precarious position.

He said that the regime in St. George’s is very “upset” with the move by the major airlines especially American Airlines but is right now faced with a “chicken and egg” situation since the island might be subjected to reprisals if the airport is not opened up to accommodate the flights.

He spoke of fears that if MBIA is not opened up for AA to land there could be an issue later with medical students of the U.S-owned St. George’s University (SGU) trying to get back on island to resume classes.

“…You may be aware that SGU has been losing students to Ross University in Barbados (that is the university that left Dominica and St. Kitts after the 2017 hurricane) because Barbados is more accessible, the (AA) flight to Barbados (is) way cheaper than Grenada.

“… The government of Barbados has given them (Ross) a great package, one we cannot compete with, the (Ross University) campus is 1 mile from the airport and of course the US Embassy is in Barbados so the American students are really looked after.

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According to the source, the Mitchell-led government which has not issued any public comment on the pressure that Washington is asserting on the airlines to start resuming flights, is mindful of the impact that can result to the Grenadian economy in terms of apartments rental business to local homeowners and other related services including supermarkets, car rentals, and restaurants.

“…We have to think deep – one screw up with American that will rock SGU and we dead”, he remarked.

“…All airlines that took (Donald) Trump bail out just taking booking (of flights into Grenada and other islands), they are trying to force the islands. Lord, are we independent countries? We close our borders and another country could just force themselves upon you. Well, well. Could you imagine airlines forcing independent countries to do something other than (what) they want to do?

Several Grenadians have been also expressing concerns over the fact that the airlines are booking flights into MBIA without any official announcement from the Mitchell government when the airport will be re-opened for traffic.

“I hope foolishness and greed do not conspire to bring sickness and death to these shores,’ said a professional in Grenada.

Another professional in the Diaspora commented, “let’s hope the authorities take the necessary precautions at the airport. Not sure how sound their (COVID-19) testing is. They (Grenada government) owe it to the nation to be transparent. Very worrying development”.

According to another local businessman, it is not appropriate for Grenada to re-open MBIA at this time in light of the COVID-19 threat because the island “cannot handle an influx of (virus) cases”.

“I think it’s part of Donald Trump’s stimulus package for the airlines. I sincerely hope that our government doesn’t allow it for now. We need for COVID-19 to be settled in the US first,’ he remarked.

Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Dr. Clarice-Modeste is yet to comment on the advertising of these flights to MBIA by the major airlines but Social Development Minister Delma Thomas took to Facebook to deny that the airport will be open to accommodate the flights.

Minister Thomas, the Member of Parliament for St. Andrew North-west commented: “Do you think this government will be so irresponsible to open up our airport to commercial flights at this time? The safety and wellbeing of our people must be of utmost importance before money. The Minister of Tourism will have to address this in an official way”.

The minister’s response has irked one professional who indicated that the issue is way beyond the simplistic understanding of the female St. Andrew Member of Parliament.

“She (Minister Thomas) stupid to answer. This is not a matter for a minister to address on Facebook. No common sense. No class. She (is) not understanding the bigger picture,’ said the local professional.

SGU is said to be responsible for nearly one-quarter of the local economy and ordered medical students about a month ago to leave the island in the face of the COVID-19 threat and the limited health facilities in Grenada to deal with patients.