Tobago chamber blasts CAL on airbridge
Chairman of the Tobago Business Chamber Martin George has called on Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) to withdraw a news release it issued on Thursday, which he said appeared to place blame on the domestic airbridge for the airline’s economic woes and failures over the years and make an excuse for not increasing flights between Trinidad and Tobago.
‘Benefit of the doubt’
“If that is the case, and I hope it is not, I am willing to give Caribbean Airlines the benefit of the doubt to clarify that point…then I take very strong umbrage to that, not just as the chairman of the Tobago Business Chamber, but also as a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, because we all know that this airline, since it was born, has been characterised by losses,” George said in a statement yesterday.
CAL said in the release on Thursday that its domestic operation was characterised by consistent losses (US$9,613,100 as at June 2022) and other critical variables such as subsidised flights, high operating costs, low prices which do not reflect actual market value and one-way peak demand periods outside of the July-August school holiday period.
The airline said as at June 2022, it’s total operational costs for the airbridge stood at US$18,777,648, while the cost per flight hour was US$17,306.
It noted that the high costs were driven by the frequency of flights and the short distance (52 miles) leading to an undesirable low block hour utilisation of aircraft and crews and maintenance costs.
“Caribbean Airlines is mindful of the need to have an effective airbridge between Trinidad and Tobago and the company continues to closely manage same, bearing in mind the considerable constraints outlined above,” the airline went on.
But George asserted that CAL’s financial woes had “nothing to do with the domestic airbridge.”
“And it is not fair to Tobagonians or Trinbagonians in general to seek to place the blame (on the airbridge) for it,” he pointed out.
“We have seen in the past the catastrophic disasters and failures of failed investments, failed ventures by Caribbean Airlines in all sorts of flights of fancy and other expensive financial foreways, which have only ended to their detriment,” he said.
“So please do not even think of it. And I call upon them to clarify this position, or withdraw that statement, where they seek to place blame and castigate the domestic airbridge as being characterised by consistent losses, as if to say that’s the reason why you cannot put on more flights. It’s appalling, and it’s debasing to Tobagonians for them to take that position,” he said.
Speaking in his capacity as an attorney-at-law, George went on: “You are speaking about something that is a basic fundamental human right. It is part of our constitutional right in the sense of freedom of movement. If it is that you do not have sufficient access to transportation, either by ferry or by plane between Trinidad and Tobago, then your movement is curtailed, your movement is restricted. And I’m not just speaking for persons who may be coming up from Trinidad for vacation, or to relax in Tobago. I’m speaking about Tobagonians who need the essential service on the airbridge.
“You may have to go down for a medical appointment. You may have to go down for surgery, you may have to go down for an interview, you may have to go down for business because there are many official Government transactions that can’t be done in Tobago. So please do not insult the intelligence of the population of Trinidad and Tobago with this puerile, pathetic statement that you put out here.”
George stressed that there was a tremendous need for more flights on the air bridge.
He said the Tobago Business Chamber, as well as the THA, was willing to work with CAL to increase flights on the domestic airbrige.
THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine recently indicated that the THA was willing to foot the $5.6 million per year required to keep the ANR Robinson Airport open until 2 a.m, to facilitate increased flights to Tobago.
“In fact, cost cannot be the issue anymore because Mr Farley Augustine is on record as saying that the THA will foot the bill…so please CAL, we do not accept and we utterly reject this attempt on your part to seek to cast aspersions and to deflect from the issues,” George said.
He added: “We call upon the Prime Minister as the leader of the country, the leader of the Cabinet, the leader of the Government, we call upon him in his capacity as a Tobagonians also, please do not ignore the plight of your fellow Tobagonians and Trinidadians who are stranded at the airport. Sometimes can’t get a booking for a flight. We need more flights on the domestic route, plain and simple. There’s no other way to put it and there is no way to sugarcoat it or to get around it.”
“We’ve seen CAL try to engage in things which I think are at best questionable. They want to speak about having a Tobago to Barbados route, they want to speak about having a Tobago to New York route and you cannot even fully service the Tobago to Trinidad route? Come on, CAL, I think you ought to do much better than this.”
BY: Leah Sorias