The airport is the only designated port of entry for persons arriving and departing by air in Barbados and operates as one of the major gateways to the Eastern Caribbean. It has direct service to destinations in the United States, Canada, Central America and Europe. In 2016, the airport was the eighth-busiest airport in the Caribbean region and the third-busiest airport in the Lesser Antilles after Queen Beatrix International Airport on Aruba and Pointe-à-Pitre International Airport on Guadeloupe. GAIA also remains an important air-link for cruise ship passengers departing and arriving at the Port of Bridgetown, and a base of operations for the Regional Security System (RSS), and the Regional (Caribbean) Police Training Centre.
The airport’s former name was Seawell Airport before being dedicated posthumously in honour of the first Premier of Barbados, Sir Grantley Herbert Adams in 1976. The airport is in the Atlantic time zone (UTC−4:00) and is in World Area Code region No. 246 (by the US Department of Transportation). It was a hub for now-defunct Barbadian carriers Caribbean Airways (not to be confused with the currently-as of 2021-operating Caribbean Airlines) and REDjet, the home for the charter carrier West Indies Executive Air, and former home to the flight training school Coconut Airways.
Overview and geography
Grantley Adams International Airport lies 12.9 km (8.0 mi) from the centre of the capital city Bridgetown, in an area officially known as Seawell. This is contrary to most information services stating the airport as being inside the capital. Grantley Adams Airport is the main air transportation hub for the Eastern Caribbean.
The terrain is relatively flat and quite suburban. The airport lies in the south-eastern portion of parish of Christ Church, close to the southern tip of the island. The airport has easy access to the ABC Highway/highway 7 heading towards the capital and locations to the north and west coast.
The airport has recently undergone a multi-phase US$100 million upgrade and expansion by the government, which added a new arrivals hall adjacent to the prior arrivals/departures terminals. Construction was made slightly more complicated because the airport has to remain open for up to 16 hours per day. Its current infrastructure is supposed to meet the needs of Barbados until at least 2015. The phase III construction project, which is yet to be completed will see changes made to the aeroplane parking configuration.
The first recorded flight in to Barbados was in 1929 at today’s Rockley Golf Course. As far as air transportation at the site of present-day facility, then known as Seawell Airport, history goes back as far as September 1938 when a mail plane from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines landed on the site from Trinidad. At the time there was merely a grassy strip as the runway. The strip was paved some time later and in 1949 the first terminal was built on the site, to replace a shed that was being used. This ushered in the facility being formally known as the Seawell Airport due to the plantation.
During the 1960s the eastern flight-range just south-east of the airport became known as Paragon. This area became the initial base of a ‘High Altitude Research Project’ known as Project HARP. Project HARP was jointly sponsored by McGill University in Canada and the United States military.
In mid-October, 1983, the civilian international airport became the scene of intense military activity. Then Prime Minister Tom Adams, the son of the airport’s eponym, offered use of the facility to the U.S. military as a forward staging and support area for the diverse American aircraft which were deployed from the mainland in Operation Urgent Fury. The airport also became a press center for more than 300 international journalist who had been dispatched by their organizations to report on the surprise multi-national intervention into the neighbouring island of Grenada. The younger Adams played a key leadership role in gathering support among English-speaking Caribbean nations for the operation to restore democracy and the rule of law on Grenada after an internal leadership dispute degraded into political assassination and civilian bloodshed.
Also in 1983, the US-sponsored invasion of Grenada prompted the United States to form another agreement with Barbados. As part of the deal, the US expanded a part of the current airport infrastructure. This prepared Grantley Adams Airport to be used as a base. As part of the plan to maintain for lasting stability in Grenada, the United States assisted in the establishment of the Regional Security System (RSS) at the eastern Grantley Adams flight-range. The RSS was (and still is) a security unit focused on providing security for the Eastern Caribbean.
Grantley Adams International Airport, as it is known today, handles most large aircraft including Boeing 747s. The airport was one of a handful of destinations where British Airways‘ Concorde aircraft made regularly scheduled flights (and got repairs). The flight time of Concorde from the United Kingdom to Barbados was less than 4 hours. The first Concorde visit to Barbados was in 1977 for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. During the 1980s, Concorde returned for commercial flights to Barbados and thereafter flew to Barbados during the busy winter season. On 17 October 2011, ZA006, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner arrived at BGI for testing. This was followed by a 24 October arrival of the Boeing 747-8 for further high humidity environment testing.
2000–2006 Expansion project
Since Grantley Adams International Airport had become a relatively busy airport for such a small island and based on an expected increase in future air traffic the Government of Barbados commenced a US$100 million programme to revamp the airport’s infrastructure.
Phase I, which is now complete, saw an upgrading of the runways, taxiways, parking aprons, and approach lighting. This phase included the Government of Barbados acquiring private land adjacent to the landing strip to bring the airport into compliance with new international aviation regulations.
Phase II (also complete) included adding a new arrivals terminal adjacent to the current building; moving arrivals from the older terminal, renovating the older terminal as a departures facility, and bringing the infrastructure into the new millennium.
Expansion after 2006
On 1 June 2007, the Bds$1.7 million Club Caribbean Executive Lounge and Business Centre was opened as an added amenity for business travelers. The centre contains 5,000 sq ft (460 m2) and is on the mezzanine level. The centre is meant to be used by special customers of several airlines at the terminal.
The Phase III expansion had to wait until the completion of the 2007 Cricket World Cup. It envisions the addition of new airport terminal Jetway (gates), new spacious departure lounges much closer to the aeroplanes and air bridges to make connections much easier. Also nearing completion is the expanded duty-free shopping area and restaurants for travelers. In 2010 airport authorities stated that traffic to the airport was up 58% and that a 20-25-year plan was being formed for the facility including an addition to the taxiway and renovation of the cargo facilities up to international standards.
After the expansion project, the airport’s arrivals facility was moved to a separate new 70,000-square-foot (6,500 m2) building adjacent to the previous structure. This allowed the departures area to occupy much of the previous shared structure. The new arrivals terminal was built with five large baggage carousels, along with customs and immigration windows.