If something doesn’t come from a politician, it doesn’t make the news, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan snapped yesterday to reporters at the post-Cabinet media briefing asking why the TT Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) took so long to directly address public concern over the safety of the Boeing 737 Max 8.
“I have seen several statements by the CAA. The prohibition notice was posted on their website as soon as they made the decision (to ban the Max 8 from TT airspace),” Sinanan insisted.
Civil Aviation Authorities all over the world, from China, to Australia, Indian and the European Union had taken the decision to cease all Max 8 flights within their respective airspace as a precaution almost immediately following a deadly Ethiopian Air crash on Sunday, where all 157 people on board – from 35 countries – were killed when the plane went down six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa. Just five months before, a Lion Air Max 8 crashed into the Java Sea after leaving Indonesia. All 189 passengers and crew died. Pilots of both planes reportedly expressed having similar problems before the planes crashed.
The last major CAA to hold out, however, was the Federal Aviation Authority. On Wednesday, at about 2:30 pm, US President Trump announced the FAA would give a directive to ground the planes following new evidence recovered at the site of the Ethiopian Air crash. Previously, the FAA had maintained that it had seen no reason to ground flights.
The TT CAA finally followed suit, releasing a prohibition order at about 6pm Wednesday night until otherwise advised—nearly three hours after the US update, but Sinanan said, “They don’t react to the media.” When the FAA, as the “design state” regulator for the Max 8, so once it determines the planes unfit to fly, wherever in the world they are, they have to be grounded. When the FAA updates its advisory to allow the planes to fly again, airlines flying the Max 8 will have to provide the requisite approvals and permits to the TT CAA in order to be granted permission to enter TT airspace. Only American Airlines currently flies Max 8s into Piarco International Airport from Miami. Today, however, the authority did waive its order to allow that plane to fly back – without passengers – to its home base in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Passengers that had been disrupted when the grounding order came into effect, were either transported to their destination on Caribbean Airlines, or on another non-Max 8 AA plane. In both cases, the minister reported, the jet model was the Boeing 737-800. CAL’s current fleet comprises 12 737-800s. The state airline is expected to upgrade to the Max 8 in December, providing it is proven to be airworthy.
The government, and by extension, the CAA, had come under fire for its apparently delayed response and seeming indifference to the international impact, as well as people’s fears for their safety while flying.
Sinanan, and his colleague, Finance Minister Colm Imbert, vehemently denied this.
The TT CAA was ranked high as one of the best, Sinanan said, and he had no evidence to suggest it had ever failed the country. It also directs the airspace for islands in the Eastern Caribbean.
“The problem we have in this country is the media just wants to hear (information) from the politicians (versus the TT CAA). If you follow the professionals, you’ll see the (prohibition notice) was posted by the CAA immediately after taking the decision,” Sinanan said.
The government is guided by the TT CAA, which is a politically independent authority, Imbert added. “In TT, the government cannot instruct nor direct the CAA. If the government were to (do that) I believe the media would be the first to say political interference. It is unlawful for a minister to tell the CAA what to do or what not to do,” Imbert added.
Asked about his comments on Twitter in response to initial media reports about the Max 8’s safety, Imbert, the primary voice from the government in relation to the entire situation via tweets and press releases, said he was protecting the reputation of state airline Caribbean Airlines from “fake news.” “It is my duty as Finance Minister and line minister for CAL, and as Corporation Sole, the holder of the shares on behalf of the people of TT in all state enterprises, to protect state enterprises from fake news. My actions were to protect the integrity and reputation of our national airline and I will continue to do that anytime I see a state enterprise, especially our national airline coming under threat from fake news I will certainly perform my duty without fear or favour,” he said.