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Fooling TT

By Newsday Reporters Thursday, March 6 2008

click on pic to zoom in

Two senior officials, one a former chairman of BWIA and the other a high official of Caribbean Airlines yesterday hit out at the airline’s announcement of the purchase of a private jet for a Caricom “niche market.”

The ex-chairman who wished to remain anonymous said it was a straight case of the Government attempting to fool the public. He said the Government had given Caribbean Airlines the money to buy the Bombardier jet, priced at more than $300 million (US$50 million).

The Caribbean Airlines official said the question to be asked is why did the Government (Ministry of Finance) want a jet. He said Caribbean Airlines was meeting its financial obligations but was not going to make a profit.

The ex-chairman dismissed as “foolishness” Caribbean Airline’s media release about having found a “niche market” in the Caricom region. He said the airline when it was BWIA had never before considered the purchase of a jet, or the setting up of a jet leasing company bearing in mind the airline’s long history of losses.

Referring to the sudden discovery of a Caricom market, he pointed to the failure of BWIA in the past to get support from the regional public and private sectors, despite the fact that the region’s tourism industry depended so heavily on TT’s national airline.

“What makes Caribbean Airlines imagine that anything has changed?” he asked.

Today and tomorrow Prime Minister Patrick Manning will be in the Bahamas attending a Caricom Heads of Government summit. Also in the Bahamas is Arthur Lok Jack, chairman of Caribbean Airlines, but it is not known whether there is a link between their presence together in the Bahamas at this time or whether any agreements are to be negotiated with Caricom heads at the meeting with respect to use of the jet.

Contacted yesterday in Montreal, Bombardier media relations officer, Danielle Boudreau, told Newsday that her company had business links with Caribbean Airlines as they were the makers of the Dash 8 planes used on the Trinidad and Tobago airbridge.

She however refused to answer any questions on the cost of the jet and its maintenance implications, saying that “negotiations with our clients are confidential.

We cannot reveal that information.”

All attempts by Newsday to contact Lok Jack failed and he did not return messages left on his phone.

Caribbean Airlines, the successor company to BWIA, marked its first year anniversary in January and is to host a family day to mark the occasion on Sunday. To date there has been no statement with respect to profitability.

While Caribbean Airlines has said that it went to the Government with the suggestion to get into the private jet business, sources have denied this, saying that the directive came from the Government to buy the jet.

A source told Newsday as far as he knew no study was commissioned to prove that having this jet would save the Government money or help Caribbean Airlines.

The Bombardier jet that is being looked at comes with a US$50 million price tag and rumoured estimates for monthly maintenance are at US$2 million. Caribbean Airlines officials making a case for the viability of the private jet told Newsday that there are executives in Trinidad and Tobago from banks, conglomerates and energy company who use private jets. However, several of the big oil and gas companies have told Newsday

that they are not in the practice of hiring jets and that their executives fly first class commercial.

The first report of the Govern-ment’s interest in a private jet surfaced in 2006 when it was revealed that Manning and Government officials had gone on a test flight on a Bombardier jet.

This was never publicly denied by Manning even in the face of criticism of the perceived extravagance of a private jet.

According to the former chairman, a way was found to get the jet through the excuse of setting up a jet leasing company by Caribbean Airlines.

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