Pearls Airport (ICAO: TGPG) was Grenada’s first airport. It is located near Grenville approximately 23 miles from St. George’s. It was opened in 1943 and was the sole airport in Grenada until 1984 when it was replaced by the Point Saline’s International Airport. The airport never held a three letter IATA code.
Pearls airport, with a 5,000-foot runway, a small taxiway and a tiny terminal building, has radar but no runway lights and therefore is closed at night. Night landings were forbidden by civil aeronautics authorities on Pearls runway. This was because of the high hills, mostly north, south and west.
All persons flying by air to Grenada had to transit through Barbados or Trinidad and Tobago. Passengers and tourists were forced to make connections before sunset or spend the night in Barbados or Trinidad. The passenger usually flew to Barbados, stayed overnight and got on a Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) flight to Pearls Airport. The trip on LIAT got so bad people started calling the airline ‘Leaving Island Any Time’.
Pearls Airport above, the capital. Singham described the trip as “forty minutes’ driving over a narrow, winding mountain road to reach the airport from the capital, St. George’s.” When luggage did not get transferred, too bad; the visitor had to go back to Pearls to pick their luggage up later.
In 1965 Pearls Airport underwent extensive repairs and runway lengthened to accommodate larger flights. This was the last major project undertaken at the airport.
The Grenada Invasion: Operation Urgent Fury
When the U.S. invaded Grenada in 1983 a major impetus for the incursion was the construction of Grenada’s current airport, Maurice Bishop International Airport, which was being undertaken with aid provided by Cuba and the Soviet Union. Supplies and personnel from Cuba were ferried into Grenada at Pearls, making this a primary target for the invading U.S. forces.
Ronald Reagan cited its extra-long, military-aircraft-friendly runway as evidence that Cuba and the USSR planned to fly in a stockpile of weapons and endanger American citizens. This was later proved to be false.
LIAT stopped flying regularly on Oct. 17, Mr. Lewis the LIAT manager at the time said. ”We knew something was up.” Three days earlier, Grenada’s Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, was placed under house arrest by hard-liners in his own Marxist New Jewel Movement. He was killed on October 19. The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States then decided to recommend that commercial airline service be suspended. The Grenadian military junta, meanwhile, imposed its own restrictions on use of the airport.
On the ground at Pearls at the time of the invasion were two Antonov Aircraft. The first U.S. troops on Grenada were Special Forces. One team of U.S. Navy SEALs landed on the island during the night of October 24 to reconnoiter Pearls Airport, while a U.S. Army Delta Force Reconnoitered Point Salines for the next day’s invasion. Both the SEALs and the Delta Force ran into stiff enemy opposition in the St. George’s area and at nearby Point Saline’s. The U.S. Marines who assaulted Pearls Airport by helicopter just before dawn on October 25 met little opposition. Arriving with surprise, they secured the airport and Grenville in a couple of hours without a casualty.
Reopening of Pearls
On November 8th Regular air service resumed Pearls, ending a three-week period in which the only access to the island was by boat or United States military aircraft.
L.I.A.T. sent company officials in, once the Pearls airport was declared open, and they were followed by two unscheduled passenger flights. Four regular flights went in and out the same day, two in 15- seat planes and three in 48-seaters that stopped at St. Vincent.
Point Saline’s International Airport opened 28 October 1984 for jet aircraft and night landings. The opening came nearly 5 years to the day after groundbreaking and one year, three days after U.S. forces landed. The U.S. sent nearly $20 million and Canada about $5 million for the $71 million project that had been about three-quarters completed by Cuba.
Many Thanks to the staff of Grenada Airports Authority (GAA) who provided invaluable help in getting crucial information.