Thursday, January 18, 2018

What’s your solution, Mr London?

Express editorial logo461

Mark Fraser

THA Chief Secretary Orville London must have sought last week to secure opinion leadership on the critical question of air transport between Tobago and Trinidad. The airbridge assures efficient passage between the islands for business and pleasure, and it is centrally important for facilitating tourism, given the reality that most visitors come from Trinidad.

Mr London certainly succeeded in making headlines and raising eyebrows when he called for a separate airline to provide the vital airbridge service. On both islands, those hearing and reading his call must have done a double take: what could the Chief Secretary have in mind this time?

The public both in Tobago and Trinidad are owed an explanation of how his call for a separate airline between the islands amounts to more than just wishful thinking. Mr London voiced his “strong recommendation” for an outfit other than State-owned Caribbean Airlines to fly the airbridge.

He failed, however, to make any suggestions about how such an enterprise could be brought into being. Or, indeed, brought back into being, for a separate airline dedicated to Trinidad-Tobago flying sounds like an idea whose time has passed.

Unhappy bankruptcy-related memories remain of previous airbridge efforts by the defunct Arawak and Air Caribbean carriers, to name just two. Moreover, the later abandonment of the airbridge route as uneconomical by regional carrier, Liat, should caution against repetition of proven costly mistakes.

To be taken seriously in 2014, Mr London must do better than talk airily about “a separate airline running the bridge between Trinidad and Tobago, where we could deal with all the nuances”. He is still to make clear how such “nuances” are seen from the THA offices in Scarborough, and exactly whom he means by “we”.

In short, Mr London should clarify whether he is proposing a separate airline to be run by the THA, taking care of “nuances” not shared by the T&T government. For both Trinidad-Tobago bridges—air and sea—are sustained only on the basis of heavy subsidy from the T&T Treasury.

If he knows of a superior option, the THA Chief Secretary should simply pursue it, maybe by attracting private investors from T&T and elsewhere. Implementation of his bright idea must also somehow keep airfares down, without requiring subsidy from the Port of Spain Twin Towers.

So far, at least some T&T business people are expressing doubts about the potential viability of the new London proposal. Meanwhile, Caribbean Airlines, like BWIA before it, remains the option of first and last resort to ensure adequate air service between the T&T sister islands. If Mr London has a better than half-baked notion of a fighting chance for a separate airline, he should hasten to make it clear.