|Volume No. 1 Issue No. 22 - Friday, May 31, 2002
|Melville Hall Airport
by: Dr. Emanuel Finn
Melville Hall airport, Dominica, is a small strip of asphalt - depending on how you look at it and comparing other international
airports throughout the world. But that small airport tucked away benealth the hills of
Marigot on the northeast coast of the island Dominica, has been a gateway and point of departure for thousands of Dominicans. Some never
to return or don't know when they will return home. Today there is more frequent travel at Melville Hall and people do visit home more
often than they did thirty years ago.
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.
Since 1958 Melville Hall can also be described as 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 that traveled to the Florida Straits and other points north along the Atlantic Ocean, were never the same again when they
It has been a point of departure for the labourers who had enough, and finally took their chances in other places far away
from their small communities and villages. It has also been the point of departure for the young, brilliant educated Dominican students heading
to Cambridge, Oxford, Howard University, NYU and elsewhere.
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 impoverished island came true,
and the road that 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 strangers. People who had experience a different life elsewhere far and near from the shores of Dominica,
its towns and small villages.
With the building of Canefield airport, the economic importance and popularity of Melville Hall decreased immensely.
What remained was the beautiful scenary 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 rare daily LIAT flight would awaken the silence of the surrounding rain forests, coconut
and Banana fields.
It would seem that everyone including the government counted Melville Hall out. One got the real impression that the sun had
set on this small airport and time had finally run out for it. It was now the other forgotten airport located deep in the interior and soon we would be writing
it's post mortem. All of a sudden everyone wanted to fly into Canefield. The word Melville Hall sounded like a place that belonged to a different 'by- gone'
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 authorizes
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 Puerto Rico, the resurrection, prominence and popularity
of Melville Hall had come full circle once again.
A few years ago while waiting at Heathrow International airport in London for a transatlantic flight to
New York, I met an American gentleman who was traveling to (LAX) Los Angeles Airport. He had 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 to land. He asked me why isn't the government building
another airport 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 did not have time or energy to arguer of the merits or demerits of building an airport? I simply asked
him if an airport is build will he fly into it every day, and he can't can he help us to find planers to fly into the airport in order to maintain it.
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 were occuring
at home on the building of an International airport. This prompted me to submit an article to a local newspaper in Dominica entitled 'To build or not to build'.
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 crash, political, and professional engineering expert
condemnation, popularity contests and other injustices. What seems to determine if it still has life depends on who is occuppling the seat of the
Prime Minister. For now, with talk about night landing, it has gotten a new lease on life. But for how long?
It is a very sad story that for over
twenty-five years, Dominicans have heard the same 'recycled nonsense' about Melville Hall by different political parties and politicians. An appeal should
go out to these politicians that they should stop using that airport as a political football. All our governments have had and continues to have failed policies
to wards Melville Hall.
A simple conveyer belt for luggage delivery has never been installed in the airport. Arriving passages contine to pile and fall
over each other while retrieving their luggage. The condition of the airport terminal is less than desirable. Didn't some one say that tourism was one of the
highest revenue generating industries on the island? Certainly the airport's ambience tells a different story. Some hold the opinion that the state of the
airport speaks loudly to the volume of disrespect and disregard that our present and past governments have had and have towards our people and visitors.
Yet still, the time consuming debate about international airport rages on. The question is, if we cannot take care of a simple airport can we manage an
international one? 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 sad and confused faces of my relatives in the small departure area and the
pang I felt in my heart for them when that moment was disturbed by the rusty sounds of the LIAT 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
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 my small community. 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 waves. 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 flight.
Since that maiden trip out of Melville Hall
airport I have traveled in and out of many airports in Europe, Africa, South and North America and the Caribbean. I don't remember the majority of them.
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. Somehow, that routine LIAT departure required an extraordinary self- introspection, which I am now coming to grips with.
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 you left home, says something about our resilience and something important about us as a people from an impoverish
nation. It also says something extraordinary about our island home of Dominica. Dominica continues to produce 'rich' citizens in variety, tones and textures
whether they hail from the towns, valleys, villages or 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 airport. On my many return trips to Dominica, I still find it most interesting but also frightening
witnessing the freight in the eyes of some passengers during take- offs and landings as the planes clear the mountains and battle cross winds.
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 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 of Marigot along the Atlantic Ocean.