Tobago airbridge hopes take off again
Once again, Tobago is receiving, and no doubt weighing the credibility of, assurances about meeting its needs for adequate air transport. That those responsible for delivery will take its needs with such seriousness as to assure dependable airbridge service is something the island has heard before.
This time, from Tobago House of Assembly officialdom have come more sounds than usual indicating encouragement with the message from the State-owned Caribbean Airlines. Chairman Rabindra Moonan has gone on the record: "We at CAL would move assiduously to listen to their concerns and to see how best we could (help) in the shortest possible time."
Mr Moonan had the benefit of plain-spoken dissatisfaction expressed by THA officials over their island's treatment by CAL. Chief Secretary Orville London had stressed "our displeasure with CAL's performance over the years". He cited a House of Assembly resolution recording unhappiness with the service by the airline both for the Trinidad-Tobago airbridge and for international travel.
On both the THA and the CAL sides of the table, there appears more confidence now that better days are ahead. The airline appears at last to have weathered a turbulent corporate management and financial period, at least since the People's Partnership took office.
Mr Moonan is now able to give Tobago assurances on the basis of having taken possession of more and better aircraft for use on the airbridge and for other routes. Last week, number four of five newly acquired, French-built, turbo prop planes landed in T&T to undergo final checks before regulatory approvals.
The new aircraft brighten corporate hopes at CAL headquarters and also raise Tobago's expectations. Without doubt, CAL confronts challenges larger in size and more diverse than those presented by the airbridge. It has been encouraged to increase its flights to London, and has apparently settled difficulties arising from use of the Air Jamaica brand insignia, thereby preserving valuable identification with Jamaicans abroad.
Still, Tobago represents a singular challenge that will be met only by focused recognition of the "sister-island" status inside the T&T unitary state. Mr London noted the significance that their last meeting with CAL chairman and directors had been the first in 11 years, and he expressed gratitude for the small mercies of oral assurances received.
Expectations thereby raised can be dashed only at serious political cost to the People's Partnership in a THA election season, and at economic and social cost to Tobago. The island's tourist economy—in domestic and international aspects—depends on serviceable airbridge (and seabridge) services.
Moreover, the general feasibility of the unitary state of T&T is associated with the aspirations of Tobagonians to living standards comparable to those of this sister isle. For their next meeting on October 26, the THA and CAL officials should have before them an operational programme with more substance than rhetorical promises.