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Tobago chamber angry over CAL airbridge claim

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Tobago chamber angry over CAL airbridge claim

The Tobago Business Chamber (TBC) has condemned what it calls an attempt by Caribbean Airlines (CAL) to lay blame on the poor performance of the domestic airbridge for sustained losses over the years.

The chamber said yesterday that it rejects this, especially if it is an attempt to castigate Tobagonians and the domestic airbridge service, as it noted that the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has recently indicated it is willingness to take responsibility for some of the financial burden to make extra flights available on the airbride by paying for keeping the airport open later.

Addressing a CAL statement on the poor performance of the domestic service in a video statement, TBC chairman attorney Martin George said they are concerned about the release because “we all know that this is an airline since it was born that has been characterised by losses.”

“So it has nothing to do with the domestic airbridge and it is not fair to Tobagonians or Trinbagonians in general to seek to place the blame for it. We have seen in the past, catastrophic disasters and failures of failed investments, failed ventures by Caribbean Airlines in all sorts of flights of fancy and other expensive financial things which have only ended in their detriment, so, please do not even think of it,” George said.

George also said it’s appalling and divisive to Tobagonians for CAL to take the position that it cannot add more flights to the airbridge.

“Do not insult the intelligence of the people of T&T, there is need for more flights on the airbridge. Cost cannot be the factor, as the THA said it will foot the bill for the additional flights,” he said.

On Thursday, CAL stated in a release that although the company recognises it is a critical part of the transport service between Trinidad and Tobago, “there are several factors that must be considered when looking at the airline’s commercial operations, both international and domestic.”

It explained that since the re-opening of Trinidad and Tobago’s borders in July 2021, the airline has consistently increased domestic flights and added airlift operationally, within the limits of its resources. It said the company has also remained in communication with stakeholders, keeping them advised about the factors impacting its operations.

“Namely, that the company is focussed on operating efficiently, which involves striking a delicate balance of using its limited resources on revenue generating routes and the air bridge. It is also still in a critical period of recovery, arising from the devastating impact of the pandemic,” CAL said.

It said it was important to note that the domestic operation is characterised by consistent losses which amounted to US$9,613,100 as at June 2022. It said there were other variables involved as well, including:

• subsidised flights

• high operating costs (US$17,306 per flight hour)

• low prices which do not reflect actual market value

• one-way peak demand periods outside of the July-August school holiday period.

It said the operational costs for the airbridge as at June 2022, are US$18,777, 648.

CAL noted that the high costs are 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.

“Nonetheless, the domestic schedule (inclusive of peak travel periods) considers the essential nature of the service, events and activities in Tobago, the total number of passengers over a twelve-month period and other information relevant to its operation,” the airline said.

“In terms of passenger and flight details, for the period July 17, 2021 to July 31, 2022, the airline operated 6527 flights carrying 416, 780 passengers. A total of 120,860 seats (66,832 – August & 54028- September) will be provided on the air bridge for August and September 2022 outside of additional ad hoc flying.”

CAL said it was mindful of the need to have an effective airbridge between Trinidad and Tobago but said it was closely managing this, bearing in mind the considerable constraints outlined.

By: Rhondor Dowlat

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