Public support for airport deal with Aecon grows, survey finds
Public support has risen for the Government’s partnership with the Canadian developer of the airport, according to a survey of 400 residents.
Narrative Research Bermuda timed the release of the poll figures for the fifth anniversary of the Government officially handing over the administration of LF Wade International Airport to Bermuda Skyport Corporation Limited, owned by Aecon, the contractor.
The company, which bills itself as a non-partisan research provider, polled residents as part of its Bermuda Omnibus Survey.
Narrative Research said the majority of residents “generally support the partnership between the Bermuda Government and Aecon” at 60 per cent, up 11 points from the fourth quarter of 2016.
The statement added: “That said, current support is just below that of findings in 2014, prior to the contract being signed.”
The poll was welcome news to Skyport, with a spokeswoman saying: “The successful redevelopment of the LF Wade International Airport Terminal is the result of an extensive and collaborative effort between the Government, the Airport Authority, the Canadian Commercial Corporation, Aecon, Skyport and dozens of large and small Bermudian contractors and vendors.
“Together, we were able to complete this large and complex capital infrastructure project on time, on budget and according to modern, international specifications, all amid an unprecedented pandemic.”
She added: “It is encouraging to see that more Bermudians are in support of the project and what has been accomplished.
“Skyport and Aecon are committed to continue successfully delivering on the airport redevelopment project and investing in our island community.”
Half of residents polled said they had travelled through the new airport since its opening in 2020.
Narrative Research said the poll, conducted by phone from November 26 to December 12, 2021, revealed that “non-Bermudians and Black residents are more likely to have travelled through the airport since it opened”.
The company said middle- and high-income people were “more likely” to have travelled through the airport compared with low-income earners.
Narrative Research released opinion figures from December 2014, June 2016, December 2016 and December 2021, when residents gave views on whether they “completely/somewhat” supported or opposed the partnership.
Public opinion has been sharply divided along political lines since the airport redevelopment was announced using a public-private partnership with a Canadian federal Crown corporation, Canadian Commercial Corporation.
Bob Richards, the finance minister under the One Bermuda Alliance administration, announced the deal on November 20, 2014, with a memorandum of understanding.
The lack of international bidding or a public tender process for the 30-year contract came under immediate fire from the Progressive Labour Party, then in Opposition.
The PLP continues to oppose the deal, which Lawrence Scott, the transport minister, criticised last month in the House of Assembly – telling MPs that Skyport had raised airline fees to some of the highest in the world.
Mr Scott has also highlighted minimum revenue guarantee payouts to Skyport, based on shortfalls for the new airport terminal’s threshold earnings required under the deal.
The People’s Campaign activist group also staunchly opposed the deal, while the PLP clashed with the Government over aspects of the project that were deemed confidential.
Mr Richards defended the partnership as the only way the island could replace the ageing terminal building at LF Wade International Airport without incurring more debt.
In November 2015, Mr Richards told a town hall meeting that “we can’t afford it any other way”.
In December 2016, a public demonstration in which protesters blocked Parliament, preventing MPs from debating crucial legislation for the terminal redevelopment, turned violent when police unsuccessfully tried to force them off the gates to the grounds of Sessions House in Hamilton.
Figures show 24 per cent of those polled “completely support” the partnership.
But Narrative Research recorded the sharpest rise in those “somewhat” supporting the arrangement, rising from 26 per cent in December 2016 to 36 per cent five years later.
The biggest shift was recorded in people who said they “completely oppose” the deal: 27 per cent in December 2016 fell to 12 per cent of respondents in December 2021.
The poll’s outlier figures come from December 2014, right after the deal was announced, when 39 per cent of those polled said they were “somewhat” in support, and 30 per cent said they “completely” supported the partnership.
The survey canvassed adult residents of 18 and above.
They were asked:
· As you may be aware, Bermuda’s new airport opened in 2020. Since it opened, have you travelled through the new airport?
· As you may be aware, approximately five years ago, the Bermuda Government signed a contract for the redevelopment of the L.F. Wade International Airport. The contract was signed in partnership with Aecon, a Canadian development company. To what extent do you support or oppose this partnership between the Government and Aecon?