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Apr 4, 2002

Brits expand Hector Silva Airstrip in Belmopan

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If you have driven into Belmopan lately, you might have noticed some activity at the Hector Silva airstrip. The work is part of an expansion project being completed by the British Army and as News 5′s Jacqueline Woods and George Tillett found out today, the additional tarmac will serve the country in several ways.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

Two years ago, the Philip Goldson International Airport closed for several days in September because the rains brought by Hurricane Keith had flooded the runway. The shutdown left more than a few passengers stranded and prevented large cargo planes from delivering immediate aid to the country.

Through a joint effort between the Belize and British Governments, a study was undertaken to identify a location that would allow bigger aircraft to land safely and bring much needed supplies in times of disaster. The Hector Silva Airstrip, located just outside of the City of Belmopan, was chosen as the ideal site to conduct such emergency operations.

John Thompson, Officer Commanding, 65 Field Support Squad

“There was great concern about the ability to take an aircraft into Belize with the International Airport being closed and underwater. So a study was undertaken and looked at various airstrips in and around the Belmopan area and it was decided that this airstrip has the most significant and strategic value to extend to allow the hurricane relief aid in the for of C-130 Hercules aircraft to land in this location bringing in relief supplies or personnel that would be necessary for hurricane relief.”

However, to accommodate planes like the Hercules C-130, the Hector Silva Airstrip needs to be expanded. Since March fifteenth, soldiers from the British Army’s 65 Field Support Squadron have been extending both ends of the runway. The work includes the construction of turning circles and over runs.

John Thompson

“The first thing we had to do was set up our life support systems here on the airstrip. That immediately followed with the surveyors going out and surveying the complete alignment, putting the pegs and boards ready for the operators to move in an commence digging the extension area.”

Once the new airstrip is opened, it will not only be used for emergency situations, but the Belmopan City Council plans to utilise the site to further develop the area…bringing added economic and tourism growth to Belmopan. Mayor Anthony Chanona says the north and south of the airstrip have been designated as industrial park and commercial zones.

Anthony Chanona, Belmopan Mayor

“We are really trying to do a serious stint with job creation. We have already spoken to the Luna Snack Company and a counterpart in Merida, the Cardin Group. We have already gotten a sign on agreement from the Diana Company in El Salvador. We are looking at Tropical Fruits Produce Limited, and we are hoping to offer to the local carriers, Tropic Air and Maya Island Air, for them to use their pioneering entrepreneurial skills to see if we can take agricultural produce from the Cayo District into the tourism markets into San Pedro. And likewise the San Pedro markets to come to Belmopan for the tourists attractions we have.”

The project is the first major undertaken being jointly done by the British Government and the Belmopan City Council.

Martin Fidler, Deputy High Commissioner

“On this scale, it is certainly…we’ve done a lot of smaller projects, schools, we’ve helped with libraries and things like that, but this is by far the biggest. This is very much a joint effort, and it’s very pleasing for me to see it moving as quickly as it is now, thanks obviously to the Royal Engineers and to Mayor Chanona and his team, and the Belize Government. It’s a good example of co-operation.”

The Hector Silva expansion project is expected to be completed by May twenty-fifth. The work, which costs three hundred thousand dollars is being funded by the Government of Belize, while the labour is being provided free of cost by the British Royal Engineers. Jacqueline Woods reporting for News 5.

According to Mayor Anthony Chanona, another major programme that will soon take place is the expansion of that city’s bus terminal. The Belmopan City Council has been in discussion with the Novelo’s Bus Company and land has already been allocated for the construction of the new building. The work is slated to begin later this year.

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