Monday, June 29, 2009

Dominica's Melville Hall Airport

By Dr Emanuel Finn

Melville Hall is a small airport tucked away beneath the hills of Marigot on the northeast coast of Dominica. Since 1958 it has been a historic migratory corridor to points North, south and beyond of our people.

It has been the 'road of flight' for Dominicans from all walks of life and socio-economic classes. The road on which many who traveled to the Florida Straits and points across and further north along the Atlantic Ocean and other destinations.

It has been the port of departure for the labourers who had enough, and finally took their chances in other places far away from their small communities and villages and also for the young, brilliant and confident Dominican students heading to college campuses abroad.

Construction of the airstrip was completed in 1958 soon after the completion of the Transinsular road. In 1961, funds from the Commonwealth Development and Welfare program made it possible to lengthen the airport runway and the building of a proper terminal.

In spite of proposals and 'political talk' of an international airport by politicians and different administrations, Melville Hall is still serving the citizens of this country in the best possible way it can. In fact, lately there have been discussions of providing night landing capabilities. We eagerly await this development.

The departures at Melville Hall taught Dominicans of what it meant to leave home. With every LIAT's departure (and later American Eagle and others) meant that somebody's dream to leave our small island came true, and the road they will have to travel ahead was a dream too.

The flights at Melville Hall carried away the people you knew and loved dearly and later brought these same people back as disapora strangers. People who had experienced a different lifestyle elsewhere far and near from the shores of Dominica.

With the building of Canefield airport, the economic importance and popularity of Melville Hall decreased immensely for a short time The word Melville Hall sounded like a place that belonged to a 'by- gone' era.

What remained were the beautiful scenery of the surrounding lush green mountains and a wide open void of the small airport itself. Occasionally the high pitch and noisy sound of a cargo plane or the rattling of stairs of a rare daily LIAT flight would awaken the silence of the surrounding rain forests, coconut and Banana fields.

The convenience of the Canfield airport just outside of the capital city (Roseau), compared to the 24 miles from Melville Hall passing through the steep hills, valleys and hairpin turns and winding roads of morne Deux Branche and the from Roseau, seemed too much of a car hike for most travelers.

Due to the frequent and dangerous cross winds and the short length of the runway at Canefield airport, the airlines and aviation authorities were uncomfortable with operations there.

Due to the safety of passengers and aircrafts and other reasons, operations at Canefield decreased immensely. Also the initiation of the profitable American Eagle airline service to Dominica from San Juan, the resurrection, prominence and popularity of Melville Hall came full circle once again.

A few years ago while waiting at Heathrow International airport for a transatlantic flight to Washington DC, I met an American gentleman who was traveling to (LAX) Los Angeles Airport. He visited Dominica some time ago and landed at Melville Hall airport on a LIAT flight.

He said that he was very frightened as the pilot approached the airport. He asked why the government isn’t building another airport in another location to accommodate international Air travel. I jokingly asked him if he knew of any one in America who could underwrite the costs of constructing an international airport on the island.

I found myself defending Melville Hall and our most mountainous island in the eastern Caribbean. I told the American Businessman that Melville Hall was not LAX where some 770,000 flights depart and arrive annually, and in time it would be much easier to travel to Dominica by air from any point of origin.

At the end of our discussion I could not help but to remember and reflect on the contentious and divisive political debates and arguments that occur at home on the building of an International airport.

No matter what is done to Melville Hall, I will always remember the first time I flew out of that airstrip, destined for North America armed with my dreams and fears of the big city and the unknown.

I also vividly remember the silent, sad and confused faces of my relatives in the small departure area when that moment was disturbed by the rusty sounds of the LIAT’s aircraft’s engines.

The engines' roar signaled to me in a very real way that I would be saying goodbye to my kinfolks, La Plaine, Castle Bruce, Roseau and points in between. While the plane was taxiing just before it airborned, I recalled my grandfather saying to me, "there are some men who go and some who stay and there is a big difference between staying and going".

I also thought of my life's preparation which I received on the steps, classrooms and sport fields of the Dominica Grammar School and in La Plaine. A few seconds after these thoughts crossed the deepest recesses of my brain, the plane disappeared into the blue Caribbean skies under the watchful eyes of choppy waters of the southern Atlantic.

Life would never be the same again for me. Whenever I listen to Harry Bellefonte's hit song, Jamaica Farewell, I always remember that that sunny Sunday afternoon with blue skies, when I left home aboard a LIAT Jet Plane.

Since that maiden trip out of Melville Hall airport I have traveled in and out of many airports in world. I still remember that flight out of Melville Hall about two decades ago. It has left an indelible mark on my mind because of the anguish and range of emotions I felt. That routine LIAT departure required an extraordinary amount of self- introspection.

The cost of departure (migration), the cost of the sacrifice and the cost of transformation have been high and sometimes painful, but also very rewarding. Crowded with unforgettable portraits of various emotions when one leaves the safe and secure surroundings of home, says something about our resilience and something important about us as a people from a small developing nation.

Dominica continues to produce 'rich' citizens in variety, tones and textures whether they hail from the towns, valleys, villages or/and hills.

In the end, for those of us who are serious about life, the human spirit always prevails wherever we find ourselves after we departed Melville Hall. On my many return trips to Dominica, I still find it most interesting but also frightening witnessing the fear in the eyes of some passengers during take- offs and landings as the planes clear the mountains and battle cross winds.

General Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander of Allied forces in the Pacific during World War II, once said, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away". Melville Hall airport is like an old soldier who has stood the test of time and battle.

Plane crashes, political, and professional engineering expert condemnation, popularity contests and other injustices. What seems to determine if it still has life depends on who is occupples the seat of the Prime Minister.

It is a very sad story that for over thirty years, Dominicans have heard the same 'recycled nonsense' about Melville Hall by different political parties and politicians.

For brave, seasoned and restless air travelers, glancing at an aircraft's window during arrivals and departures at Melville Hall is a priceless bargain. Beautiful majestic rolling hills and mountains, tropical rain forests, lush green coconut and banana fields, and the rugged Dominican coastline, say hello and good-bye. History will always be kind to this small airport, which nestles in the foothills along the Atlantic Ocean.

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Dominica needs an international airport and that for sure.
Skerrits closure of the airport on a whim has destabilised somewhat the viability of scheduled international flights for they can not guarantee that they will be left in mid air, just in case some chinese guy or chavez or raul castro or even dopwell may get the whim of privelidge of total and full exclusivity from dictator skerro and his mob, and with their own security take over and abuse us. so it will a long time before any international airline will agree to land in dom even if we had the capability
perfectly true Skero sent out the wrong message and international airlines are wary read the international press aviation news read what they say,

The only time airspace is closed is in a state national emergency of immense proportion, or a state of war exists and there is an exclusion zone implemented over Dominican air space to protect the populace.

the only protection we Doms need from is Skerrit
and his mate Chavez
Was LIAT used to sabotage the Dominican economy?
3. How many tourist and medical students were crying at the airport as their schedule flights were delayed and missed connecting flights because of DLP chartered flights that took priority over the scheduled flights?
4. What has that done to Dominica’s reputation as a tourist and Medical education destination?
5. Was this the 1st time?
6. Was it a genuine apology and reimbursement of those who were inconvenienced During the closure of the airports for the opening of the Petro caribe fuel installation?

Have the French funded Genocide in other countries?
24. Why has the urgent need to remove the damaged and hazardous asbestos from blowing into Saint Mary's primary school classrooms, been ignored?
25. Why has the asbestos hazard not been removed from blowing into the windows of Saint Mary’s Primary school?
26. How many school terms have passed since the prime minister and others have known of the hazard at Saint Mary’s Primary school?
27. Is in not the windy season now?
28. Why would a scout ignore such an urgent hazard?
29. Who are the Scouts in the DLP?
30. Why ignore the Girls Guides, cubs and scouts peace mission yet facilitate the spending of close to $1 million on the paramilitary Cadets?
31. Have not cadets been recruited as child soldiers for genocide?
32. Are the Primary school Children of Roseau central being punished for not casting the Vote in favor of Skerrit?

Record high Social ills
1. Record high Drug abuse?
2. Who released the V boat found with millions of dollars in cash and???
3. Weekly youth turn Paro?
4. Do we have the highest teen drug use in the Caribbean?
5. Why was the June 2009 demographic survey not published?
6. Did unemployment rise from 25 to 36%?
7. Poverty from 39-47%?
8. For the record high incest and child abuse?
9. What did the Chief psychiatrist say about the effect of the RED CLINIC?
10. Unemployed young men who deposit Thousands of dollars of Euros?
11. For the Never before seen assassinations?
12. Record high unsolved murders in Dominica?
13. How long have the Villagers been sacrificed suffering Quarry dust?
14. How many times have they begged for it to stop?
15. Have they ever been helped?
16. Is Dominica not among nations signed onto occupational health standards set by the World health Organization and International Labour Organization?
17. Why knowingly endangering the health of the villagers of Layou, st.Jo, Tarou, Pt. Michell, Loubiere, Colihaut...?
18. Is not the world observing precautions of the H1N1 pandemic?
19. Why then were all the intoxicated “Sexy Girls”, children, Women, and men being encouraged to ride dangerously in open trucks on rainy days and beyond mid-nights across the island?
20. What are the definitions of responsible behavior?
21. Why would someone who does not drink alcohol or take drugs encourage its abuse?
22. Were the elected Doctor and Nurse who would have the knowledge of the Hazards been kept away from the ministry of health?
23. Was there a change in the Medical registration act in September 2009?
24. Was this to silence the Asbestosis and Silicosis hazard?
25. What is genocide?
Economy & Foreign exchange earnings:
1. Why has France blacklisted Dominica and Skerrit remain silent?

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