Friday, February 10, 2012

Transport Minister on LIAT threats: Caribbean Airlines to expand aggressively

Despite threats by LIAT to sue Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) over allegations of unfair competition, Transport Minister Devant Maharaj says CAL would continue to service the Eastern Caribbean aggressively. “We see CAL as having a pivotal role in the development of T&T’s tourism and it would continue to aggressively pursue markets in all territories in the Eastern Caribbean.” Maharaj said he felt the market is currently not being serviced properly and CAL, which he described as the “Caribbean’s number one airline,” would continue to expand its markets in the region. Maharaj, who was speaking yesterday at a CAL new conference held at the Piarco International Airport, said he was not willing to comment further on the matter. “Given the threat of litigation, I don’t think it would be prudent to comment on that at this point in time. I await whatever pre-action letter that would be served and then we would respond.” He said he was not depending solely on newspaper reports and is waiting to officially hear from LIAT.

Last week Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines and chairman of the shareholder governments of LIAT, said the airline’s owners felt CAL was undermining the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas as well as the Common Air Services Agreement in Caricom by engaging in unfair competition. Gonsalves said no one can stop CAL or wants to stop CAL, but shareholder governments of LIAT would like to have a level playing field and fair competition.

Asked if CAL was in breach of any Caricom or Chaguaramas treaty law, Maharaj said, “I shudder to think that any board under my remit would breach any law and that includes CAL.” Prior to this accusation, CAL came under more fire by the low-cost airline REDjet, which accused CAL of deceptive advertising. This was quickly dismissed by Maharaj, who said REDjet was looking for free advertising and was not in a position to properly comment on deceptive advertising, because many of REDjet’s flights were recently cancelled. Jokingly, Maharaj said “CAL is an airline, but REDjet is just about two planes.”

24-hour ANR Airport
Meanwhile, Maharaj said the conference was to announce CAL’s “red eye” flights between Trinidad and Tobago, its non-stop daily service to George FL Charles international aiport in St Lucia, and the official opening of the 24-hour service of ANR Robinson airport, Tobago. He said the additional four new flights between T&T were to facilitate the 24-hour service at the Tobago airport. He said the red eye services would allow customers full 24-hour day trips to facilitate business and leisure. These flights would now take the total number of weekly flights on the airbridge to 252. CAL chairman George Nicholas III pointed out that these Tobago flights would serve as connecting flights from United States to avoid passengers having to overnight. CAL would be receiving another ATR aircraft in four days. 

Robert Corbie, acting chief executive officer at CAL, said the airline is on stream to fulfil the expectation of transporting 220,000 passengers for Carnival. “This number is across the board for the entire Carnival season,” he said. “We are expected to have a 747 aircraft arriving today, which would be kept for about two weeks.” Minority leader Ashworth Jack praised CAL and the minister for their quick response to the call to make the ANR Robinson airport a 24-hour service, and to add flights between T&T. He said this would give Tobago the much-needed boost to make it more attractive for tourists. He asked Nicholas if CAL could also consider additional flights between Barbados and Tobago, London and Tobago, and New York and Tobago.

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