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CAL must wet lease

By Vernon Khelawan Thursday, May 31 2012

CARIBBEAN AIRLINES (CAL) now has no choice but to wet lease an airplane if it intends to initiate its return to London on June 14 as planned. Ironically though, it is not through any fault of the airline and has nothing to do with flaws in the planning, preparatory to a successful re-introduction of its transatlantic service.

According to sources at the airline’s Iere House Headquarters at Piarco, documentation for the wet lease arrangement for a B-767-300 aircraft should have been signed two days ago with United States-based Omni Leasing company. CAL already has a lease with Omni for a B-737, which it now uses on its North American services.

The airline’s problems, regarding its London services, are totally out of its control, since the certification of the two B-767-316ER airplanes leased from Lan Chile, remains stalled because of Civil Aviation oversight problems. As Business Day understands it, the local Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is now waiting for an audit of its oversight and safety systems.

Efforts to reach Ramesh Lutchmedial, Director Civil Aviation for his comments proved futile.

Because the audit is scheduled to take place in July, it is possible that the CAL aircraft would not be able to operate out of Trinidad until that audit is completed and the time frame for that remains uncertain. Meanwhile both aircraft, already painted in CAL’s colours and outfitted with the airline’s livery, have to remain in Mexico until such time as permission is granted for it to come to Trinidad and Tobago

On the local front however, preparations are continuing apace as CAL moves feverishly to have everything ready for the June 14 take off. According to acting Chief Executive Officer, Robert Corbie, “We are in the process of consolidating the loads. We had at first scheduled four flights a week to London Gatwick (LGW), this has been reduced to two because of our airplane situation and this means accommodating the passengers to their convenience on the reduced twice a week service.

“Since we began the consolidation exercise the loads are looking quite good and we still expect some late bookings,” added Corbie. The London services, which leave Trinidad on late afternoons, will operate on Thursday and Friday out of Port-of-Spain and Friday and Saturday out of London. This schedule, according to information reaching Business Day will run until June 29.

The schedule will change in July with departures from Port-of-Spain on Thursdays and Saturdays out of Port-of-Spain and out of Gatwick on Friday and Sunday. This schedule will operate until September 02. While the twice weekly service will continue through early December, it has not yet been decided which of the two options the airline would use, whether it be the Thursday and Saturday service or it might just revert to Thursday and Friday departures out of Port-of-Spain.

Later in December the flights would be increased to five flights a week to accommodate peak travel customers over the Christmas season and the New Year holidays. “But long before that time a decision will be made about plans for 2013,” said Corbie.

Meanwhile there has been no official word on the funding regarding payment for the five completed ATR aircraft now sitting in Toulouse, France. Several weeks ago a two-man team from the ATR company held meetings with officials of Caribbean Airlines at Piarco in an effort to iron out the payment situation.

At that time Business Day learnt that efforts were being made to secure financing through a large international bank with ties in Trinidad and Tobago, but so far there has been no word as to the progress of that action.

Contacted earlier this week, Transport Minister, Senator Devant Maharaj, hinted to Business Day that efforts might be made to sell the aircraft to other airlines operating in the region. He said, “While Caribbean Airlines used its own money to pay for the first two new turbo jet airplanes, no arrangements had been put in place regarding funding for the remaining seven.

But the minister spoke about another development and said there were discussions now being held between Caribbean Airlines and the manufacturing company Avion de Regional Transporte (ATR) regarding the performance of the aircraft now being used by CAL.

He revealed that there were several areas of dissatisfaction surrounding the performance of the two aircraft now being used mainly on the airbridge services and the two parties were trying to sort out that situation.

Maharaj said he was not sure at this time about the discussions between the Ministry of Finance and Caribbean Airlines on this matter, but added, “There is an option that the aircraft might be sold to other airlines in the area.”

Although no official statement regarding the ATRs has been made, it would seem that Caribbean Airlines is having second thoughts about taking possession for its use of the remaining ATRs – five completed, with another in June and the seventh in July – and are trying to dispose of them, since the contract with the manufacturers was binding.

So while the complaints about performance of the aircraft might go a short way in relieving the financial burden of paying for the aircraft, Minister Maharaj believes the aircraft could be sold without any major loss to the State-owned airline.

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