The Tobago Business Chamber has condemned what it calls the continued mismanagement at Caribbean Airlines (CAL) and its negative effect on the economy.
The comments came from chairman of the chamber Martin George.
On Sunday, thousands of Caribbean Airlines (CAL) passengers were left stranded when 37 flights – 13 international, 14 domestic and 11 regional – were cancelled after pilots called in sick.
In a release on Facebook on Sunday evening, the airline said it had had a "remarkably high volume" of calls from pilots saying they were unwell and could not work. The calls came about three hours before the flights were set to depart.
In a WhatsApp response, George said the pilots may have legitimate grudges and reasons for wanting to take this kind of action.
However, he said CAL as an airline is seeking to expand into territories and areas and create new routes, yet saying it faced “resource constraints.”
“The two are incongruous – it’s either you have the resources to do so and to do so successfully, or you don’t. You cannot have your existing routes suffering because of resource constraints and then say that you are expanding into new areas.”
He said CAL needed to take care of home first.
“The Tobago route has been something that has been a bugbear for travellers for years, and it has gotten worse, and there seems to be no improvement, no reliability that you can have with CAL and simple travel for a 15-minute flight between Trinidad and Tobago.”
He pointed out that after Sunday’s events, travellers were quoted as saying they were no longer interested in Tobago.
He questioned why Tobago and by extension citizens or even international visitors should suffer as a result of the situation.
“This is clearly mismanagement and poor practices at CAL and something that the government has to take responsibility for because CAL is owned by the government. We ought to see better management occurring with this airline, and better deployment of resources so we can have some level of efficiency, effectiveness and reliability in the transfer and transport of people between Trinidad and Tobago or between Trinidad and other areas.
He said this must be managed properly, "rather than engaging in flights of fancy.
“Let's be realistic, let's be practical and let's remember that charity begins at home.
“So you need to take care of your home-grown customer base, you need to take care of your citizens – the ones who have been so faithful and loyal to you over the years – before you engage in all sorts of forays into new ventures, sponsorship, deals, wasting billions and billions of dollars over the years, with no appreciable benefit or return – and yet still you cannot get the basic function done.”
Chairman of the TT Chamber of Commerce Tobago Division Curtis Williams said: “It’s not good for us, it’s not good for the airline – it’s not good for any one of us at all.”
He said there is a bigger picture.
“It’s some kind of negotiation going on and it all boils down to money. We’re hoping that the goodly minister of finance may be in the background somewhere around – he has to get involved in this because it all boils down to money and negotiation.”
He said the impacts were massive, and the cost is going deep into the pockets of visitors.
“It’s not looking good, and we definitely want the government to know it’s not looking good. Someone has to come in and really get this thing going.”
The THA Division of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation, in a press release, acknowledged the significant inconvenience faced by visitors and residents caused by the disruptions, cancellations, and delays of domestic and international flights.
Acknowledging the "frustration and challenges," it said, “We extend our understanding and support to all those affected...we are cognisant of the far-reaching implications (for) our community.”
It added that in the face of these unforeseen circumstances, the dedicated and hardworking staff of both the Port Authority and the Airport Authority should be commended.
“Their unwavering commitment to service and their exceptional understanding of the circumstances have been integral in mitigating the effects of this interruption. Their steadfast dedication to ensuring smooth operations has provided valuable assistance and support to those affected.”
Passengers booked on cancelled airbridge flights were told they would be accommodated on the seabridge.
The division said it was in active communication with CAL and was awaiting official word on the anticipated resumption of flights.
The PNM Tobago Council in a press release called for a speedy resolution to the situation. The council said it was deeply concerned, acknowledging the importance of Caribbean Airlines as a vital link connecting the islands of Trinidad and Tobago as well as facilitating regional and international travel.
“The recent cancellations have caused significant inconvenience to Tobagonians by disrupting the movement of people between our islands, causing deleterious impacts to the local economy.”
It added: “It is imperative that a swift resolution is reached to ensure that the interests of all stakeholders are upheld. We believe that open and productive dialogue is crucial to finding a fair and equitable solution that safeguards the public's interest.”
It further called upon Caribbean Airlines and the pilots to prioritise the well-being of the travelling public, the tourism sector, and the broader economy.
“We emphasise the need for a swift resolution that not only addresses the immediate concerns but also establishes a foundation for future collaboration and understanding. We remain steadfast in our commitment to the well-being of the people of Tobago and Trinidad and Tobago as a whole.”