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CAL considering flights to Panama

By Carla Bridglal

Caribbean Airlines could soon be flying directly into Panama.

Panamanian President Alberto Martinelli promised yesterday during his address at the Caribbean Investment Forum (CIF), Trinidad Hilton, St Ann's yesterday that his country's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will allow the State-owned carrier a licence to fly into Panama.

He said it was reciprocity for Copa Airlines "Panama's national airline" flying directly into Trinidad, and will help strengthen ties between the countries.

"This will be a tremendous boost for Trinidad and Tobago as it will continue to fit into our vision of (becoming) a major transit hub for the Caribbean," Transport Minister Devant Maharaj commented after Martinelli's announcement.

Maharaj also attended the CIF at the Trinidad Hilton and later attended a meeting with the Panamanian delegation (headed by Martinelli), Caribbean Airlines chairman Rabindra Moonan and this country's CAA director general Ramesh Lutchmedial.

"CAL is more than up to (doing this route). The (airline's financial) troubles have to be taken into context in the business operations of CAL. They are not insurmountable and (this new route) will be part of the turning about process for CAL," Maharaj added.

He said the airline was in the process of realigning certain routes that were non-profitable. There may be other permutations, he said, because there are already flights from Trinidad to Miami, so it will be foreseeable to take a flight from Miami and redirect to Panama.

Contacted by the Express after the meeting, Moonan said during a telephone interview the airline will be pursuing the opportunity.

He said because CAL is a State enterprise, a note must be submitted to Cabinet for approval, and once it is approved, Memoranda of Understanding could be signed between CAL and Panama.

"What (Martinelli) said is that the deal is a fait accompli -- once the Cabinet note is accepted and CAL submits the application to the Panamanian CAA, it will be approved," he said.

Moonan said he has instructed CAL's management to fast-track the airline's feasibility studies, and depending on the results, the company will be able to make a decision relating to the Panama route.

"It will give CAL the opportunity to expand into profitable routes... The feasibility study will determine what (our course of action will be). All we have right now is an agreement in principle... I am not in a position to say when the routes could possibly begin," Moonan added.

—Carla Bridglal

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