AIRLINE CONTROVERSY IN THE CARIBBEAN

 

Twenty-Five years ago I was due to travel on Jet aircraft from St. Maarten to Kingston, on a December 22nd date, coming back from a business trip to Bridgetown, and St. Johns, Antigua. I recall waiting at Juliana Airport in St. Maarten from early in the morning, for an 11.00am flight.

The BW Flight originated in Port of Spain, stopped in Antigua and was on the way to us an hour and a half late, but it was coming and I wanted to get home for Christmas.

The flight became visible, everyone in the waiting area rose and got their belongings together, and headed for the Boarding Gate. I looked at the plane coming in, and saw it getting ready to land. All of a sudden, the BWIA aircraft veered away, and went back flying around in circles. All passengers were in protest, until the agent addressed us and said the aircraft could not land for fuel problems.

A few minutes after he said that, we heard aircraft flying over the terminal, and a Bajan standing beside me said “That is BWee flying over.” We were not amused and the agent was organizing a flight to Antigua via American, where we would overnight, and catch the flight from Antigua the following day. The Bajan was muttering some unfavorable epithets, and he turned to me saying: “BWIA” Stands for “Britain’s Worst Investment Abroad.”

There is an interesting article written in today’s Gleaner entitled “Ministers to discuss airline’s performance”; and the issue of Employment to Jamaican personnel. The concerns for our trained personnel pilots and stewardesses who seem to be laid off for no good reason.

The present airline reintroduced the same or similar board members to run CAL, which now has a poor flight record with the crash of an aircraft in Guyana a year ago. So far nothing has been said about the terrible service today, where in five out of ten passengers have had expressed ‘unfavorable’ compared to BWIA twenty five years ago.

But the matter goes deeper. The last board appointment seemed to be the least technical and more politically inclined as suggested by Eastern Caribbean Press. It has made large US dollar grants ($USD 5 million) to charities, while compromising its reputation for being a safe carrier. Last fiscal year CAL/Air Jamaica seemed to have lost TT$600 million, (USD $94.3 million), something that affects both Trinidad and Jamaica.

There is interference in all aspects of the management of this company, from the Minister of Transport, the Prime Minister, and the person making the final decision the Finance Minister, and it is feared that another period of losses due to board incompetence will prevail. There was even a squabble between Jack Warner (Of FIFA Corruption scandal notoriety) who has since been fired for alleged corrupt practices and the past CEO of CAL over decision making in the operation of the airline, until the Attorney General put a stop to it by a “Gag” order. Mr. Jack Warner was appointed by the Prime Minister of Trinidad to be security Minister for that nation, in spite of doubtful performance in his tenure with the Olympic association. Well, ‘when dawg have money him nyam cheese.’

There are also numerous complaints in which the airline services are considered unreliable. The Tobago Tourism Committee recently indicated that the airline was supplying 20,000 seats less this year, well below the capacity needed to operate the air bridge. The president of the Trinidadian Hospitality Association suggested that there was no evidence that CAL would improve, and they were only making excuses.

It is hoped that the Finance Minister of Trinidad and Tobago who holds the shares for CAL will exercise his prerogatives, for Jamaica and Trinidad, and their respective tax-payers, and put an end to this fiasco by appointing suitable managers and experts to manage the Airline, which may turn out to be bad Investment for both tJamaica and Trinidad.

 

(660 words)

 

 

 

 

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