Caribbean Airlines sinks further, and no fleet renewal plan

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Caribbean Airlines sinks further, and no fleet renewal plan

Unread post by bimjim » Tue Feb 20, 2018 ... ewal-plan/

Commentary: Caribbean Airlines sinks further, and no fleet renewal plan
Ray Chickrie
February 19, 2018

Caribbean Airlines (CAL) continues to sink for several reasons. The Port of Spain/Tobago flights operated by CAL require vast government subsidies to pamper Trinidadians who wants to go party on the island during weekends and holidays. According to a report in the Trinidad Express, “Approximately $41 million budgeted for CAL as the subsidy on the air bridge this year does not cover the entire shortfall between the fare charged for flights on the air bridge and the cost of running it, making the route unprofitable.” And with such a large subsidy, private airlines can’t compete on the route.

There are no restrictions in purchasing the “low fare” between Port of Spain and Tobago. Residents and non-residents pay the same air fare which is around US$120 round trip. There have been widespread calls for the government and the airline to restructure the fare on the air bridge service.

Other reasons for the sinking of the airline are corruption, poor management and frequent government interventions. The government “put its friends” who have little airline experience to run the state owned company. Boards have come and gone. Managers have come and gone. Since 2007, there have been three boards, four chairmen, four CEOs, three acting CEOs, four CFOs and two acting CFOs.

Workers who don’t show up to work still get paid. They leave early or take long breaks; their friends move their timecards. Friends and families fly free, an insider at CAL said.

The company is also “filled by individuals who do not have the required qualifications. There is also the inability to repatriate revenue earned by the airline in Caracas, Venezuela.” the Trinidad Express wrote.

In addition, the airline has been having technical problems with the five ATR 72-600 turboprop aircraft. It was reported that all five were “down for three days, forcing the airline to press into service its Boeing-737-800 fleet.” However, the airline has denied such. It is also alleged that pilots have refused to fly the aircraft due to safety issues, but CAL has denied these accusations.

For its long history, CAL, which served the British Caribbean under the name British West Indian Airlines (BWIA), has had an impressive safety record.

CAL is losing a lot of money on unprofitable routes. The airline wasted a lot of money in its quest to return to London. The issue was one of national pride for Trinidad and Tobago’s CAL board. Instead, many at the airline said that there should have been more investments in the Guyana market, its most lucrative market.

London was a big loss and the airline pulled the route after a short period. There are also several routes that were recommended to be axed, but it hasn’t happened yet. The company has been advised by Parliament’s Joint Select Committee to “urgently conduct a route analysis with a view to a reduction and or elimination of services to some North American destinations where over the past five years there has been an unabated trend of declining passenger numbers and massive financial losses.”

There were talks about the Paramaribo route being axed, but this is unlikely since the airline is the only company that connects Suriname to New York, Toronto and the rest of the world. However, the schedule is inconvenient for Suriname-bound passengers from NYC because they must overnight in Port of Spain to make a connection to Paramaribo.

Another major issue confronting CAL is its aging and dilapidated fleet. The average fleet age is 15 years and some of the Boeing 737-800s have been in service for 18 years, without any major refurbishing of the cabin. Yet, there is no serious plan for fleet renewal. The Boeings are old, knocked up and shabby looking. Seats are broken and bathrooms continue to deteriorate.

“JSC also wants CAL to commit to refurbishment and modernization of its fleet; find the root cause of the issues with the ATR aircraft; and adopt key recommendations in the Lufthansa reports, which it said will assist the airlines towards achieving profitability by 2018,” the media reported a year ago.

Aircraft lack any entertainment like movies, newspapers, Wi-Fi, USB ports, and the government has little money now to subsidize the airline. The food service on the North America/Guyana route is very poor. They serve a dry split-pea rice and chicken or processed turkey and cheese spread sandwiches served in large plastic containers. The airline also doesn’t offer hot beverages.

Most Guyanese carry their own food when they take a flight from New York or Toronto to Guyana. If the airline can’t afford to offer passengers a complimentary meal or snack, it should offer healthy food for sale.

Born in Guyana, Raymond Chickrie was a teacher in the New York City public school system and has also taught in the Middle East.

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