By Kenton Chance via Caribbean 360
The Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines Monday neither confirmed nor denied reports that it was conducting inquiries into the possibility of including St. Vincent and the Grenadines on its Caribbean routes.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told the Caribbean Media Corporation that while he had not been “formally approached” on the matter “I understand from our authorities that they have come in and they were doing inquiries. But I haven’t seen anything formally coming to the state administration”.
An airline industry official told CMC that CAL officials came to St. Vincent recently to do a site inspection and that they were accompanied by personnel from its security, engineering, operation and marketing departments.
The source further said that CAL has contacted at least three local companies about the possibility of one of them being handlers for the airline.
CAL Communications Manager Clint Williams, while he would not confirm nor deny the possibility of the airline servicing the route, said “Caribbean Airlines is continuously evaluating new routes and new opportunities.
“Currently with our new business plan we are evaluating all the flying on our fleets including our ATR fleets,” he added.
Gonsalves, who is chair of regional carrier LIAT, had in the past objected to CAL servicing the same routes as the Antigua-based airline while CAL was receiving a fuel subsidy from the Trinidad and Tobago government.
He said that the subsidy was “illegal” under the treaty that was established by the Caribbean Community and had threatened to go to the Caribbean Court of Justice if the matter could not be resolved through arbitration.
But the Kamla Persad Bissessar-government subsequently discontinued the subsidy that in 2012 was estimated at US $40 million.
Gonsalves told CMC that he was no longer opposed to CAL flying to St. Vincent, and there could be a partnership between the two airlines.
“Once the competition is fair and accords with the agreement which we have for air transportation in the region, there’s no problem,” said Gonsalves, who is chair of CARICOM and is lead prime minister on air and maritime transportation in its quasi-cabinet. “Once you don’t have predatory pricing and you don’t have subsidies — any kind of unfair advantage being given to one side or another.”
Williams said that CAL would naturally be looking at the regional situation, “flying without our fuel subsidy” and that the airline had certain elements of its business plan that needed to be put in place.
“So we are considering all the opportunities that are available to the airline at this time,” he added.
Gonsalves said that in the past, LIAT, which is owned by the governments of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica, has had competition from several other carriers.
“I have never ever been opposed to any competition for LIAT. All I ask is that the competition be fair and within the framework of the multilateral air services agreement of CARICOM.
“It is either we have rules or we don’t have rules. If we have the rules, you have to follow the rules. It is a simple, straightforward matter,” Gonsalves said.
“It may very well be that if CAL comes into the OECS countries that LIAT and CAL can form a strategic partnership in these matters.”