AirportThe U.S. Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) recently announced plans for projects designed to improve the Territory’s airport infrastructure in 2015. These efforts are expected to cost more than $130 million over a five-year period.

Among the upgrades VIPA announced are improvements to the Gallows Bay Marine Terminal, the development of a paid parking facility for Cruz Bay and the establishment of a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility at the Urman Victor Fredericks Marine Terminal at Red Hook.  The majority of the funds over $100 million will be spent on expanding the St. Croix and St. Thomas airports.

Why airports are important

Particularly in a tourism-driven economy such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, the role of airports in promoting and contributing to economic activity cannot be understated. By connecting tourists and other travelers with distant or otherwise hard-to-access locales, air travel encourages travel and commerce that wouldn’t be possible through other means. In addition, operating an airport, with all the roles directly connected to air travel as well as security, retail, restaurant and other service positions, creates an infusion of jobs that might not otherwise exist.

Although a thriving airport may constitute a sizable sub-economy on its own, the benefits of having a major airport in a given location also boost the local economy well beyond the airport’s perimeter. Increased air travel promotes the construction of hotels, restaurants, retail stores, convention and conference facilities and more, all of which result in the creation of new jobs, both during the planning and construction phases and while those facilities are in operation.

Another key benefit of airports within a tourist economy is that they provide opportunity for service workers to travel themselves. In other words, airports don’t just benefit the economy in the places people like to travel to — they also open up other parts of the world. Airports do much more than link one tourist hub to another — they truly provide for greater global connections.

As the U.S. Virgin Islands’ economy continues to transform after the shuttering of the HOVENSA oil refinery, there has been much discussion on improving infrastructure and making investments in the medical and education industries, and residents and investors alike should consider these airport developments as one more key move in the revitalization of the territorial economy. Although these projects are still in their early stages, there is much to find encouraging about the commitment of VIPA, the Government of the Virgin Islands and other organizations to making the airports — and the economy in general — much stronger and healthier.

BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected business and government relations law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.