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Big tourism plan for eastern Jamaica
Planned Duckenfield aerodrome to accommodate commercial, private jets
BY INGRID BROWN Observer staff reporter
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An aerodrome equipped with immigration and customs departments to accommodate both international and domestic flights is to be built in Duckenfield, on crown lands bordering Portland and St Thomas, state minister in the office of the Prime Minister Daryl Vaz confirmed yesterday.

Vaz, who has responsibilities for project monitoring and implementation, explained that the development will consist of an 8,000-foot runway which will be ideal for private aircraft and 200-passenger commercial jets.

He explained that the aerodrome, which will have international status, will initially have a small terminal with processing and restroom facilities to be further expanded when the need arises.

"This will open up the eastern end of Jamaica for major tourism investments as well as for commercial activities such as free zones," Vaz said.

The Observer first learnt of the Duckenfield project last Wednesday at a luncheon of business leaders hosted by the newspaper's chairman, Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, at the Observer head office in Kingston.

Stewart said he attended a meeting that morning at which the plan, among a number of issues relating to development in Portland, was discussed, and that he was very encouraged by what he heard from the Government officials.

The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Bruce Golding, was also attended by business mogul Michael Lee Chin, representatives of the Ports Authority of Jamaica, Airports Authority, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Urban Development Corporation (UDC), Immigration and Customs departments, and the Commissioner of Lands.

Yesterday, Vaz told the Observer that during the meeting, Golding mandated the UDC, Airports Authority and the CAA to put together a comprehensive cost analysis to be taken to the Cabinet.

The project is expected to be signed off and sent to Cabinet in time for the new budget in April, and the estimated time from start to finish of the project, once it is approved, Vaz said, is 24-30 months.

The project will, however, be funded by the private sector, and Vaz said he has already begun discussions with Lee Chin, who, he said, is committed to getting the project off the ground.

"By March we should be sitting down again to look at some hard numbers in terms of cost," he said.

The project, he added, will attract investors to Portland, among them "a prospective purchaser of the 1,600-acre Errol Flynn estate" who, he said, came to the island in December and had indicated his willingness to do business here once he could fly his private jet here and avoid the long commute by road to Portland.

Vaz also said that other owners of private jets, who have been buying property in Portland over the past two years, have been lobbying for a proper aerodrome.

He said that other aerodromes across the island will be expanded to accommodate certain types of private aircraft, lighting for night flying and customs and immigration services to allow easier access for tourists and business travellers.

"With what is happening in the world today, you are at a distinct disadvantage if you are to tell someone flying their private jet to Jamaica that you have to land at Norman Manley or Sangster [airports], clear customs and then re-board to fly to Port Antonio to spend a vacation," said Vaz. "That is way old time."

He explained that although the Duckenfield site is about an hour's drive to Port Antonio, it is the most suitable location as determined by the CAA, as other sites examined were ruled out because of cross winds.

"The fact that the land is government-owned would also eliminate the wait for land acquisition or relocation of persons or buildings," he added.

He said the aerodrome will also benefit the marina in Port Antonio which was built by the Port Authority and which has become a white elephant.

"Port Authority spent a lot of money to open the marina with the hope that it would resuscitate Portland and surrounding areas. but it has become a white elephant, and one of the problems is that there is nowhere for yacht owners to fly in and out," he said.

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