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Trouble in the skies

Trouble in the skies

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The relevant local authorities are willing and ready to grant the St Lucian registered CARICOM Airlines permission to operate here, but the airline must first comply with the terms and conditions before any consideration is given.{{more}}

This is the latest from Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves in relation to the airline debate between him and the St Lucian Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Allen Chastanet.

“I would love to see more air access, but I want to see air access that is properly regulated,” the Prime Minister said at a press briefing on Monday, November 29.

“When they have complied with these things, the issue of reciprocal arrangements would follow.”

According to Gonsalves, the forward movement of the application process depends on several issues, including the inadequacy of the insurance coverage, the issue of one pilot (which has been resolved) and the absence of the requisite Air Operating Certificate (AOC) issued by the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA).

“Chastanet commented publicly that they don’t need an AOC certificate because of a CARICOM agreement which stipulates that if a certificate is issued in one jurisdiction…that another jurisdiction would accept it,” Gonsalves said.

But according to the Prime Minister, “an agreement does not supersede legislation of the OECS countries which established ECCAA.”

“The Caribbean Aviation Safety and Security Oversight System (CASSOS) can in no way supersede an Act of Parliament by merely having a company registered in St Lucia or in any other member state,” Gonsalves said.

While the CASSOS agreement may take into consideration the registration of such an airline from another CARICOM state, the safety and security regulations laid down by the law must be fulfilled Gonsalves explained.

“I do not understand why the government of St Lucia is allowing a Minister to make such statements without reference to what is the legal position and to address the matter through all the appropriate channels.”

With regard to the insurance, Gonsalves said that the Director of Airports, Corsel Robertson, raised some concern about the low insurance policy liability limit which the company indicated to be USD $25,000.

Local carriers SVG Air and Mustique Airways, however, both have their insurance set at USD $100,000.

The Prime Minister also said that Robertson had made every effort to facilitate CARICOM Airways, adding that the process started in 2009 when the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Surinamese based airline made an inquiry as to the required information for submitting an application.

Those documents were sent to the company in July 2009. However, there was no formal communication from the company for the rest of 2009, according to Gonsalves.

Meanwhile, Robertson, when contacted by SEARCHLIGHT, confirmed this information to be accurate.

Robertson, however, added that the application subsequently submitted came from a Surinamese company and not from a St Lucian registered company as was being reported in the media.

She further contended that although the company has evidence of the existence of a Surinamese AOC, this did not mean that there was an obligation by this country to recognize it.

But Chastanet on Wednesday, December 1, on the ‘Shake Up’ radio programme maintained that the “government (of St. Vincent and the Grenadines) up to this day have not gotten back a formal response.”

He said that his ministry had written to the permanent secretary since September 24, and had not received a response.

“I recognize the right of St Vincent to approve or not approve, but would appreciate some sort of formal notification,” Chastanet said.

He contended that while the local authorities were calling for an AOC, this was “not correct.”

The St Lucian Minister gave the examples of the airline ‘EC Express’ that operated under a Jamaican AOC and the former BWIA that flew under a Trinidadian AOC.

“It is a policy, not a regulatory issue,” Chastanet contended, adding that it was for the St Lucian authorities to make a determination if the company needed an OECS AOC.

“St Lucia believes in an open air policy to make sure we have as much airlines as possible to create as much competition as possible,” he continued.

“A lot of St Lucians have not been satisfied with the cost of Liat, and in many cases, the schedules and would love to see an alternative.”

He was of the view that Liat, was a “high cost operation.”

“The Dash 8 is a great plane, but it is not good for our routes; the distance between St Lucia and St Vincent is 13 miles to put such an expensive aircraft on that route,” Chastanet said.

He noted that the fleet which is owned by SVG Air and CARICOM Airways is ideal for the region.

“ECCAA does not do anything to help the small airlines,” he added, saying that SVG Air has to pay the same AOC as Liat, but with fewer seats.”

“It’s a shame that a region like ours that is so dependent on airlift that we don’t see more smaller airlines to fill that service to people,” he contended.

Chastanet further said that he was not prepared to get “involved in the politics”, but just wanted a response in the matter.

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