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May 24, 2002

Expanded Belmopan airstrip officially opened

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It doesn’t support the traffic of O’Hare in Chicago, J.F.K. in New York or London’s fabled Heathrow. In fact, the total number of passengers landing at Belmopan’s Hector Silva airstrip in a year would be hard pressed to fill a single 747. But numbers are always relative and in an emergency the lone runway in the nation’s capital could prove crucial. That’s why, as Janelle Chanona found out, it’s been upgraded.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

This morning, government officials cut ribbons at the Hector Silva Airstrip, marking the end of an extension project done by the British Army’s Royal Engineers. According to Commanding Officer Major John Thompson, the work was completed on time and to specification.

Major John Thompson, 65th Squadron Commander

“We arrived here in mid-March and we followed that up with thirty-eight days of actually stone laying and digging for the extension of the airstrip. And today, culminating in all of that for Exercise Sailfish.”

The objective of the extension project was to provide an alternate landing facility for the country in the event of that hurricane rendered the runway at the Phillip Goldson International Airport useless.

Major John Thompson

“This has been designed to carry the Hercules C-130 aircraft at its maximum landing weight. So it can bring in an awful lot of relief if that should be necessary.”

Even though some aircraft have already used the airstrip, according to Major Thompson, there is still some work to be done.

Major John Thompson

“The next stage is to have it sealed and surface dressed. The Ministry of Works is actively seeking a contract now to have the whole things blocked up to seal in all of the work that we’ve done.”

The economic impact this new airstrip has for the city of Belmopan and its surroundings was not lost on Mayor Anthony Chanona.

Anthony Chanona

“The legacy of your work has changed the landscape of Belmopan forever. While the catalyst for this project was hurricane, the city of Belmopan will certainly not wait around for one to occur. Rather, we will forge ahead with our plans and vision to create jobs and opportunities for our residents as a result of these expanded works. We intend to corroborate with the Ministry of Communications and Transport, in setting up a municipal airport authority to design a site plan for the best use of some thirty-four acres that lie immediately north of us. We expect this authority to create an enabling environment to foster trade, tourism and business, with stakeholders of the local carriers. And to this end I must recognise the entrepreneurship of the Tropic Air management, who has already had and begun discussions with the City Council in fostering trade between San Pedro, Spanish Lookout and the surrounding zones that produce agricultural products.”

Finishing touches to the airstrip are expected to be completed by the Ministry of Works in the near future. Reporting for News 5, I am Janelle Chanona.


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