More than 200 visitors from Africa are scheduled to arrive in Antigua on Thursday, even while questions linger over the feasibility of their charter flight – Antigua Airways, and the lack of accommodation for its many passengers currently on the island.
Opeyemi Olorunfemi, the Managing Director of the charter aircraft speaking from Canada to Twin Island Media, said a full flight of people, over 200 of them, are scheduled to travel on two flights destined for Antigua tomorrow. The charter plane is currently in Abuja, Nigeria.
He also said that flights are likely to increase in the future, to an optimum of three times weekly once they begin to operate as a commercial flight. “Initially, our plan is to ensure that we fly three times a week, that is our plan. That is when we have a full operation commercialized.” For now, he said charters will come one or two times a month.
However, many visitors from the African continent who arrived in Antigua on the weekend were stranded, being unable to secure accommodation at hotels and guest houses.
That forced them to gather outside various lodging houses like apartments and hotels, hoping to secure lodging.
While Foreign Investment Minister, E.P Chet Greene said the lack of accommodation on the island should be seen as an economic benefit, many residents are concerned about the validity of the airline and the purpose of its charter services.
But, he said the influx of visitors, signaled a need to increase the room stock on the twin island and to invest further in the aviation industry to allow Antigua and Barbuda to be used as a hub to and from Africa.
“I think what is happening here is that the Antigua Airways concept, the vision of this government to attract African tourism, is moving much faster than we even anticipated because in November we had the first flights and already we have had three flights since and the number that are coming are not small numbers,” he said.
According to Mr. Greene, the most recent visitors have all since found accommodation across the country.
In future, the aircrafts managing director said they are improving their services to ensure that proper accommodations can be sought for their travelers before they arrive.
Is Antigua Airways Certified?
According to Mr. Olorunfemi, the airline now has Air Operator Certificate (AOC) from the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) but is “working towards” securing the same in Nigeria to determine its air worthiness.
Antigua Airways is owned by Nigerian investors but 20 percent of the airline’s profit goes towards the Antigua & Barbuda government, according to the managing director.
He also revealed that Antigua Airways is an approved business under the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP).
Minister Greene said the government is a “facilitator of this enterprise” and said the government has no “financial ownership”.
Were all the passengers cleared by immigration?
Meanwhile, the Immigration Department issued a press statement saying that there were no irregularities regarding Nigerian Charter flights and their passengers.
The release was in response to questions posed by the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP).
The department said all of the passengers who arrived “satisfied all entry requirements, including declarations of their places of accommodation” and were granted visas on arrival.
A cost of an entry visa can range from XCD$50 to XCD$350 depending on your reason for entering Antigua & Barbuda.
The department said it did not waive those fees and claimed it made $25,000 from the Christmas Eve flight alone.
“The UPP claims that many of these visitors changed locations because of an inability to pay. The Immigration department is not aware that any of the visitors changed their declared places of accommodation.”
“In any event, changing the place of accommodation is not a crime, nor does it mean that the visitor cannot be traced if the necessity arises. The Immigration department is now in possession of the biometric data of all of them. Therefore, this statement from the UPP is unnecessarily accusatory and alarmist,” the release read.
Further, it said many of the passengers who arrived are booked on onward flights to other destinations in the Caribbean, and full records have been maintained of their biometric details.
“Should any of them attempt to remain in Antigua and Barbuda illegally, they will be easily picked up and deported,” the department assured.
Were all the passengers cleared by immigration?
A brash “hell no” was the response of Minister E.P Chet Greene who was asked whether the recent visitors from Africa would be involved in the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party’s (ABLP) election campaign.
Elisa Graham Public Relations Officer for the Antigua Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC), also confirmed that the visitors would not be able to vote in the general elections as they are not registered as electorates in Antigua and Barbuda.
Antigua Airways made its debut flight on Antigua & Barbuda’s Independence Day on November 1, 2022.