The Boeing 767-300ER jet that flew Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to South Africa on Monday will be named the Nelson Mandela aircraft, the Prime Minister announced late yesterday in the country’s capital, Johannesburg.
A statement from Office of the Prime Minister press secretary Francis Joseph stated Persad-Bissessar said the Caribbean Airlines aircraft which took the Trinidad and Tobago and Caribbean delegations to South Africa will be named the Nelson Mandela aircraft.
The Boeing 767 aircraft is one of two such CAL jets that arrived at Piarco International Airport in 2012.
It is a wide-body jet with a capacity for 221 passengers.
It is used on the State airline’s London (England) and Toronto (Canada) routes.
Persad-Bissessar made the announcement the aircraft will be named, following yesterday’s memorial service for former South African president Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
The jet left Piarco on Monday for a 16-hour flight to South Africa, with one stop for refuelling in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Persad-Bissessar said she was happy she was able to attend the memorial service yesterday where she met several world leaders.
She was particularly impressed with discussions she held with retired South African bishop Desmond Tutu, the statement said.
“Bishop Tutu still remembers his visit to Trinidad, and he kept speaking in glowing terms about the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” the Prime Minister added.
According to the statement, Persad-Bissessar said the atmosphere yesterday was “awesome”, adding it was totally different to what she experienced when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died in March.
She said at least 100 world leaders were present in the stadium yesterday. The Prime Minister met several of the leaders during the service.
“It is very gratifying when all these leaders put aside their differences and come together to pay tribute to a freedom fighter as Nelson Mandela,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar will today attend the official state viewing of Mandela’s body in Pretoria, South Africa, the statement added.
The CAL jet is not the first aircraft of the State airline to be named.
In August 2012, Government announced a CAL aircraft would be named after Olympian Keshorn Walcott after he captured a gold medal in the London Games.
Miss Universe Janelle “Penny” Commissiong-Chow had a BWIA DC-9 aircraft named after her when she won the pageant in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1977.
After he won the Olympic 100m gold in the Montreal Games in 1976, sprinter Hasely Crawford also had a BWIA aircraft named after him.
BWIA was the predecessor carrier to Caribbean Airlines.
There were also reports over the weekend that passengers booked on CAL flights to Toronto had to be reassigned other dates to travel as the jet was taken off the route to be used on the chartered flight for the Prime Minister and the delegation.
Attempts to reach CAL officials yesterday to confirm this were unsuccessful.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and Opposition Senator Faris Al-Rawi, along with a number of Ca-
ribbean leaders, accompanied Persad-Bissessar on her trip to South Africa for Mandela’s memorial service.
They included Haitian President Michel Martelly and Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie.
The delegation on the CAL jet is expected to return to Trinidad and Tobago tomorrow.
CAL chairman Phillip Marshall did not immediately return phone calls yesterday seeking comment.
Tourism Minister Chandresh Sharma told the Express yesterday he had the privilege of meeting Mandela and the naming of the CAL aircraft after him would serve as a reminder of the greatness of the man on earth.