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Early History of Aviation in Trinidad and Tobago

Since its birth on 8th January 1931, Piarco International Airport has been the major air transportation facility serving Trinidad and Tobago and the southern Caribbean.

The growth and predominance of Piarco as an aviation centre in the Caribbean is inextricably linked to the rich and colourful aviation history of Trinidad and Tobago. In 1913 about ten years after the Wright Brothers made their first flight by man in an airplane, two Americans, Frank Boland and George Schmidt thrilled crowds at the Queen’s Park Savannah with their daring aviation skills. The wealth of aviation expertise in Trinidad and Tobago was brought to the forefront during the First World War, when many locals joined the British Royal Flying Corps and distinguished themselves in service.

After the war, seaplanes visited the island and used the Cocorite Docks as a flying boat port. Some adventurous airmen also used the small Mucurapo Field as an airstrip. But the Piarco Savannah was destined for major aviation history when in 1929 the Venezuelan commercial airline, Compagine Generale Aeropostale ventured to begin a scheduled landplane service to Trinidad and sought a spacious airfield to develop a landing strip and a terminal building.

The development contract was given to local engineer Maurice Lange and he fortuitously chose the Piarco Savannah as the site. His choice displayed remarkable foresight and bravado, for the finest airfield in the entire Caribbean. Lange completed construction of the first 3000 ft Piarco Runway and Terminal in about three (3) months’ time. On 8 th January 1931 Piarco was ready to receive its first aircraft.

About nine years later in 1940, Crown Point Airport was created, when the Works Department laid a 670-meter (2,200ft) landing strip on the southwestern tip of the island. This strip was constructed with a foundation of rocks and gravel overlaid by a bed of turf and planted with grass.

Early in November 1940, BWIA was formed and on November 23, a BWIA Lockheed Lodestar registered VP-TAE piloted by “Snarks” Wilson made the first recorded landing of an airliner at Crown Point Airport .By the end of 1940, Crown Point was declared the secondary aerodrome of Trinidad and Tobago. The Assistant Superintendent of Police in Trinidad and the Superintendent of Police in Tobago was assigned the post Aerodrome Superintendent, respectively.

In 1942 there was an increase in activity of German Submarines in the area, and the Americans lengthened the runway to 1524 meters (5,000ft). Crown Point could now handle any aircraft in the service during the War.

In 1960, the runway was again lengthened to 1882 meters (6,500 ft), but after Hurricane Flora in 1963, last 152 meters (500ft) had to be condemned. The installation of Runway Lights and a Non-Directional Beacon (NDB) gave Crown Point the capability of a twenty-four hour operation.

The facilities at Crown Point Airport were upgraded in the mid 1980’s to accommodate a new Terminal Building, Access roads, Car parking and an extended apron. The runway was extended to 2,744 meters (9,000 ft).
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago, in 1987 approved a $78.7m TT project for extensive aerodrome development at Crown Point. This project was completed in 1992. It was in that year that the first wide-bodied aircraft – B 747 Pan American Airways landed at Crown Point. Crown Point Airport was now officially named ANR Robinson International Airport.

 

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