Fly Me to the Moon

Air transport

Vernamfield Aerotropolis is a key project to boost and diversify Jamaica's air transportation and logistics.

Once a US Air Force base during WWII, Vernamfield airport in Clarendon Parish now hosts the Tinson Pen Airstrip and the Jamaica Defense Force’s (JDF) Air Wing training facilities. However, the Jamaica Logistics Hub Initiative intends to transform this former US outpost into a crucial cog in the country’s logistic network. The long-term vision is to make Jamaica the main logistics hub of the Americas, benefiting over 1.6 billion consumers in developed and emerging countries while at the same time contributing to the Panama Canal connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas to Southeast Asia and China.

In a report delivered to the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIJ), Nathan Associates and BergerABAM outline their plans for the airfield’s new life. PIJ reviews land master plans in terms of development, construction, and infrastructure focused on the development of the country and taking advantage of its strategic positioning in the Caribbean.

The aerotropolis will be built with multiple commercial, industrial, residential, open space, and agricultural lands. Indeed, the aerotropolis concept combines urban planning, airport planning, and business development. One key, set for development over the next five to 10 years, is the terminal to augment air cargo capacity by 2 million tons per year and increase connectivity to global markets. The new cargo terminal will also host large aircraft, such as the Antonov 124. The end goal is to begin international operations in 2030 in order to divert to Vernamfield 30% of the projected air cargo processed through Miami International Airport from Latin America and Europe by 2036. Furthermore, Vernamfield air cargo demand is projected to increase by 697% between 2030 and 2040, according to the BergerABAM report. Taking advantage of its proximity to Kingston—just over 55km—this growth will offset a projected 78% reduction in cargo demand from Norman Manley. Locally, this is expected to link the aerotropolis to the capital as a part of the Kingston corridor, integrating cargo transport by air, roads, railways, and seaports and increasing FDI.

The development plan presented to PIJ also outlines plans to renovate the 4-km runway and build a maintenance area, onsite logistics area, and an air cargo operations site. This infrastructural and strategic logistic venture aims to catapult Jamaica to the same level as other notable terminals in the Americas, such as Tocumen International airport in Panamá City, El Dorado International Airport in Colombia, and Miami International Airport.

Such an ambitious endeavor requires manpower; the Vernamfield Aerotropolis project is expected to create some 30,000 jobs, in turn necessitating nearly 40,000 housing units. Job opportunities encompass several areas such as break bulk, manufacturing, logistics facilities, maintenance repair overhaul (MRO) services, roll-on roll-off cargo, warehousing, courier services, general aviation, assembly, and a transport training college.

The Airports Authority is in the process of tendering the clearing of the airfield and runways. Minister without Portfolio Mike Henry announced that the initial JMD300-million project to re-establish the aerodrome was scheduled to begin in October 2018 on the first designated 170 acres of the property, initiating the process to realize the expected development on the island. The Aerodrome will host the JDF Air Wing training facilities, and the other businesses and operations currently at Tinson Pen will be relocated to the new structure.

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