Caye Caulker airstrip renovations have yet to begin

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

The work to upgrade the airstrip on the island of Caye Caulker, a very popular tourism destination in Belize, remains in limbo. The island’s airstrip was one of the busiest in the country until the local airlines, Tropic and Maya Island Air, suspended flights on October 1st due to the dangerous condition of the runway. This prompted the Belize Airports Authority (BAA) to attempt to acquire funding through a multi-million dollar loan from the Social Security Board (SSB). However, after the loan was apparently turned down, the fate of the project now hinges on the outcome of a meeting between SSB’s Board of Directors scheduled on Thursday, December 21st. Meanwhile, the tourism sector on La Isla Cariñosa continues to suffer the consequences.

Many hoteliers have reported losses due to reservation cancellations since their customers cannot fly directly to the island from the International Airport in Ladyville, near Belize City. The only option to travel to the island currently is via water taxi, which according to them is not the number one choice of transportation for some visitors to their island. They urged the respective authorities to do something as soon as possible in order to remedy the situation and minimize losses.

When the airstrip renovation project was announced back in October, it called for a total cost of $7 million dollars which includes a terminal, fencing, elevated and widened runway, markings, and lighting for nighttime flight capacity. The rumors that any of these funds had already being disbursed to the contractor of the project were dispelled after Nicholas Ruiz, BAA General Manager, who explained that the submission was not fully endorsed by SSB’ Board of Directors. According to him, the proposal has since been revised and the scope of the project considerably reduced. Ruiz indicated that the budget for the runway has been reduced to $5.5 million, which again was not fully accepted by the said statutory body. “The last application we sent to the SSB was for $3.5 million detailing a project seeking to be International Civil Aviation Organization standards compliant, with a hot-mixed elevated runway, shoreline protection, and lighting. Fencing and a terminal were eliminated from the budget,” explained Ruiz.

According to Ruiz, Caye Caulker is the fifth most trafficked airport in the country and a significant loss in arrivals have been recorded. “We know the airstrip is the key to the development of the tourism, business sector, and leisure sector, and so we want to get this runway back online and operational,” said Ruiz. “We had been looking at a time frame of six to eight months, but because of where we are with the SSB, and the time it has taken, we are going to try to shorten that as much as possible.”

Ruiz claims that the loan discussion continues and they expect a positive outcome from SSB’s meeting on the 21st. “They are still on board,” he said. “There was correspondence regarding certain conditions they had requested from us, so now we are just waiting for their final decision on our loan application.”
On the other hand, Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Honourable Manuel Heredia Jr., has briefly stated that even if SSB does not approve the revised loan application, the project will be done one way or another. “Either Social Security or somebody else will finance the project,” said Heredia, “We have a backup plan.” The Minister concluded that a $3.5 million investment will be made if needed.
Until a final decision is delivered, works on the Caye Caulker airstrip are at a standstill. The timeline for completion after works begin is still expected to be between six to eight months.


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