Barbadian Hadley Bourne, CEO of the new Argyle International Airport in St Vincent and the Grenadines. (GP)
BARBADIAN HADLEY BOURNE is at the helm at St Vincent and the Grenadines’ new state-of-the-art EC$700 million (BDS$515 million) Argyle International Airport (AIA).
Growing up in St Christopher, Christ Church, within earshot of the Grantley Adams International Airport, Bourne’s dream as a young boy was aviation and the sight of planes overhead making their way into Barbados fuelled his desire to one day be more intricately involved in some aspect of their operation.
That day has come at last, and Bourne is excited at finally getting the opportunity to do something he always wanted to do.
In the position of CEO of the AIA, the former student of St Christopher Boys’ School and later Combermere School is defying the pronouncements of those who told him there was no scope for aviation in the region, when he attempted to get funding for aeronautical engineering studies back in the 1990s.
Speaking to the SUNDAY SUN from his St Vincent office last week, he said: “I wanted to do aeronautical engineering, but in the early 90s they would not lend me money to do it. They said there was no scope for aviation in the region and I should go and do a full mechanical or electrical degree in Trinidad or Jamaica.”
He had just completed engineering studies at the Barbados Community College and armed with an associate degree, he was raring to move on to the next level of study towards attaining his goal.
With hopes dashed at this point, Bourne settled for a job with Banks Holdings Limited, working over three years between Banks Breweries and the Pine Hill Dairy.
With a ray of hope that his ambition to have a career in aviation was still on track, he left private enterprise for a job in the Civil Service, working as an air traffic controller.
He was awarded a National Development scholarship in 2003, went off to the UK to study aviation and earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering with first class honours. Armed with this first degree, it was back to the control tower at Grantley Adams International Airport and his job as an air traffic controller.
A second National Development Scholarship enabled him to secure a master’s in management with specialisation in human resource management from the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus. Five years later, he was fortunate to be awarded a third National Development Scholarship and went to Australia’s Griffith University and completed another master’s in aviation management, this time specialising in aircraft accident investigation, safety management assistance, aviation quality assurance and management system.
After each success, the loyal Barbadian returned home to his job in the Control Tower.
Though he may have been progressing in the area of qualifications, it seemed like on-the-job promotion to the top round of the ladder was eluding him, despite the fact that he had moved from air traffic controller, to air traffic supervisor, to air traffic instructor.
Now, he expresses upfront how much he values the experience gained on those occasions he was given the responsibility to act in a senior position when a superior went off on holiday. There is no doubt in his mind it has served to prepare him for the position he now holds. Through it all, however, one detects he still has a soft spot for the Grantley Adams International Airport after spending nine years there.
But when the position of manager, operations and services, at the yet to be opened Argyle International Airport came up in February of 2016, he applied and got the job. Last December, just nine months after joining the AIA team, he was appointed CEO.
It could be said Barbados’ loss is St Vincent and the Grenadines’ gain.
“My vision for this airport is not just for the airport, but for the country as a whole,” he said. “The airport is just the gateway to the untapped resources that St Vincent and the Grenadines possess.”
“I want to see the airport as the south-western hub for the Eastern Caribbean where we can develop markets into Central and South America and Latin America.”
Considering the “strong Cuban presence” in St Vincent and the Grenadines since several people in that territory would have lived or studied in Cuba, Bourne envisages air links with that country as well.
Within the ambit of his responsibilities, he is looking forward to assisting with exploiting St Vincent and the Grenadines’ tourism potential. “There is a lot of natural tourism; eco-tourism with volcanoes and waterfalls; then you have all the beautiful islands and quays of the Grenadines.”
It is ironic that at a time when a Barbadian heads the airport of the neighbouring island, Barbados could stand to lose out on the benefits it has been reaping over the years from the aircraft and passenger traffic bound for St Vincent and the Grenadines, that was forced to come to airports here on wide-bodied aircraft that could not be accommodated previously by St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Trinidad and St Lucia also benefited from that business.
Bourne explained: “Most of the people coming to St Vincent and the Grenadines would have to deplane in Barbados, Trinidad or St Lucia and then ferry over on small aeroplanes.”
“Now it is a chance for them to have direct airlift.”
In this regard he predicts a “demographic shift” in the patterns of movement of passengers and specifically a change in the flight pattern of small airlines operating out of AIA.
For small carriers such as Grenadine Airways and Mustique Airways that would usually take passengers from other large airports in the region to the Grenadines, the flight model may now be focused on passenger traffic directly from AIA to the smaller islands in the Grenadine chain.
For example, the CEO said: “Rather than shuttling from 119 miles from Barbados or about 200 miles or more from Trinidad, it is now a 15 or 20- mile trip from Argyle.”
However, he still believes there remains a role for regional carriers LIAT and Caribbean Airways in the scheme of things at Argyle.
The AIA is one of the few airports in the region offering the facility of jet bridges – two of them – and while Barbados is yet to acquire this long-mooted facility at GAIA, St Vincent and the Grenadines is looking forward to providing an international standard to passengers coming to AIA.
Meanwhile, Bourne, the father of an 11-year-old daughter, is excited about his mission to steer things along a path of growth where St Vincent and the Grenadines’ aviation development is concerned, within the confines of his specific area of responsibility.