Airlines and scores of stranded passengers breathed a sigh of relief Saturday as Antigua and Barbuda`s V C Bird International Airport re-opened after a sick-out by air traffic controllers crippled its operations on Friday and most of Saturday.
Prime Minister Lester Bird said the closure “has done great damage to ourcountry,” a week before the start of the winter tourist season.
Bird also confirmed that the sickout by the air traffic controllers was “because an elevator has not been working for many months, and also because some of them were not paid on time”.
But he said the Ministry of Aviation should have tackled the elevation problem and has promised that officials would be held accountable.
“Obviously, there will have to be changes at the Ministry of Aviation and the Airport. Real and urgent grievances should have been given real andurgent attention,” he said.
“The passengers on the planes coming to and leaving here on Friday and Saturday were severely discomforted, and a great cost has to be borne to compensate those persons who had to be accommodated in other countries or whose holidays or business arrangements were wrecked,” Bird said instatement.
“The closure of the Airport could not have come at a worse time. It generates bad publicity for Antigua on the very eve of our winter tourist season…
“No doubt, the buzz from our competitors at that meeting to travel agents from around the world will be that Antigua is not a reliable destination. This will have an adverse effect on us for years to come. It will also have destroyed in one fell swoop all that we have done to market Antigua and Barbuda as a desirable tourist resort.
“The closure of the Airport has sent jitters throughout the airline industry that has invested a great deal of money into increased flights to Antigua this winter,” he said.
He added that “the nervousness” of these airlines may well result in cancellation of flights over the winter period. “Should this happen, it will have an adverse effect on hotels, hotel employees, and everyone, including the private sector, who rely upon the money generated by tourism to sustain employment and business.
“Of course, it will also adversely affect government`s revenue, and will worsen the situation which has caused late payment to some public servants.”
Bird also assured public sector employees that they will be paid by “the end of next week”.
“On the matter of late payments to public servants generally ... I have beenassured that arrangements have been settled by the Ministry of Finance with all but one bank to ensure that all government employees are paid on time. I have been advised that the one outstanding bank is to give its answer on Monday,” he said.
“Based on the information presently available to me, my assumption is thatthe matter of late payments will be truly over by the end of next week.”
As a goodwill gesture to all passengers, Bird said the government was “waiving the departure tax to all travellers who have been unfortunately affected by the untimely action” and thanked them “for their tolerance during this period”.