Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
The Airports Authority of Jamaica (AAJ), operators of the Ian Fleming International Airport in Boscobel, St Mary, is gradually expanding the facility, according to President Earl Richards.
The airport observed its first anniversary last week Thursday with a fly-in of eight private aircraft, which was part of the Air Journey's TBM Tour 2012 that is celebrating 100 years of the TBM single-engine turboprop aeroplane.
A total of 27 persons came in for the celebration and spent the weekend in Ocho Rios.
Richards, speaking to reporters after the ceremony, said expansion of the airport, which is designed to accommodate small private aircraft, is being done gradually to accommodate larger airplanes, based on growing interest in the facility.
"What we have found is that we have more interest from larger aircraft than it was designed for, so we are making gradual improvements and extensions to make it capable of accommodating larger aircraft," Richards said.
He continued: "And we have interest from two groups to inspect the facilities who, the type of aircraft they want to fly here, requires us to extend the runway another 500 feet, and that would mean it would have to be extended across the north coast highway, which, of course, is a big decision, very costly. It would be, what we say, a game-changer for the airport because we would now be able to accommodate scheduled traffic, with aircraft that can accommodate 50 to 70 passengers. So it would change the whole nature of the airport and make it very busy so that we would have international traffic. So over time, with additional resources, we expect to keep improving this airport so that it would become a significant player in the tourism sector here."
The Ian Fleming International Airport, which was upgraded from an aerodrome and opened last year January, was designed to tap into the lucrative private and corporate aircraft sector, which Richards said was the largest sector of aviation in the world.
First anniversary celebration
The airport's observance of its first anniversary coincided with Air Journey's celebration. Eight TBM 850, said to be the world's fastest single-engine turboprop aeroplane, touched down early Thursday afternoon. Former CEO of Cessna Aircraft Company, Jack Pelton, who led the group, was presented on the tarmac with a copy of Robert Davis' book, Jamaica By Air, by Captain Errol Stewart, CEO and director of operations at Caribbean Aviation Training Centre.
Later at the ceremony, Richards hailed the day as a special one, noting that the Air Journey TBM Tour 2012 coincided with the airport's first anniversary and Jamaica's 50th year of Independence.
Minister without portfolio in the Transport, Works and Housing Ministry, Dr Morais Guy, who spoke at the function, said the expansion of the aerodrome into an international airport has boosted not just intra-island travel but inter-island and international travel as well.
"We are delighted that you have chosen to share this historic milestone with us here in Jamaica," Dr Guy told the group.
"I am satisfied that the marketing efforts of the Airports Authority of Jamaica has in some significant way resulted in this. By your presence here this morning, and with the publicity that this event will no doubt give, we are showcasing to the world the potential of this airport, and I invite your organisation to spread the word about our facilities."
Also welcoming the group was Custos of St Mary A. A. Pottinger, and AAJ Chairman Mark Hart.
The anniversary cake was cut by Mark Hart, Carrole Guntley, Dr Morais Guy, and TBM Tour representative Sophie Pouille.