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PM – I am not afraid of competition

PM – I am not afraid of competition


Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that he is not opposed to any competition to regional air carrier Liat.{{more}}

Responding to a question posed at a press conference last Monday, January 17, on his reaction to the news that Trinidad and Tobago based airline Caribbean Airlines (CAL) was looking into the possibility of operating here, Gonsalves said that he was “not seeking to protect Liat.”

“I would be happy to see a bigger airlift for St Vincent and the Grenadines if we have more passengers coming out,” the prime minister said.

“Everybody will say we want to see Liat get competition. I have no problem with competition and I have no problem with CAL coming into St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves continued.

He did, however, say that he needed to know the details of the proposed operation as he had not received any official correspondence from the airline indicating an interest to operate in the country.

“The issue of civil aviation is a matter to be properly dealt with,” Gonsalves told members of the media.

“I don’t know if ECCAA (the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority) is involved or if they are going to be flying out of their base (Trinidad and Tobago)? We need to know.”

“Nobody has written to me. I haven’t seen a letter from CAL, so I don’t know what airline, how frequent they want to come,” Gonsalves said.

“I know that the last occasion there was a talk between LIAT and CAL about possible co-operation, a possible nexus. There are all sorts of things. I know that former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Patrick Manning has had a very keen interest in this matter, but he is no longer prime minister,” he further added.

The prime minister pointed out that fuel was an area of contention.

According to Gonsalves, Liat has to buy fuel from the market. However, the Trinidadian government subsidizes this cost whenever the cost of fuel rises above US $50 a barrel.

“But if CAL is allowed to come to St Vincent and go to other places where Liat runs, and especially to take the more lucrative end of the market, and were to put enough planes and were to get 50 per cent subsidy on fuel, which is a major operating cost and take Liat out of the skies, and then the Trinidadian government decides to cut routes, what is going to happen?”

“It’s a complicated business,” the prime minister contended.

“Are you going to compete with LIAT with your fuel subsidy? That is impermissible under the CARICOM rules,” he explained.

“I think I have raised enough questions so when people say the Comrade trying to protect Liat because he was in the forefront of saving Liat, please believe me if there is a level playing field. I have no problem.”

He referred briefly back to the dispute with St Lucian Aviation Minister Allen Chastanet and the refusal to allow the St Lucian based airline CARICOM Airways to operate here, saying that before permission is granted for an airline to operate here, everything must be in accordance with the law.

“But to get those things done, you have to come to the Minister of Aviation or if you don’t come to the Minister of Aviation, you certainly write the air transport and licensing board, where the permanent secretary would inform me and then considerations are made” Gonsalves added. (DD)