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Devant: Meals on Air Jamaica to stay

By Carla Bridglal

Transport Minister Devant Maharaj said yesterday his statement on the removal of meals from economy flights on Air Jamaica was "a miscommunication".

The Sunday Express reported this week that the Ministry was in talks with Caribbean Airlines (CAL) to review expenditure and make the airline as profitable as possible, with "critical aspects being a reduction in staff in Jamaica and the removal of food from Air Jamaica's economy seating."

Maharaj said while a number of measures were being examined by the executive team of the airline to streamline and optimise the efficiency of its operations, there is "no intention to remove the meal service that has defined the warmth of the Caribbean's hospitality on board".

CAL also issued a statement yesterday "reaffirming its commitment to the world famous Champagne Service" in Air Jamaica's Business Class, and a hot or cold packaged snack in Economy Class.

Maharaj also told reporters yesterday after a sod-turning ceremony at the PTSC for a new CNG service station at the Corporation's City Gate, Port of Spain hub that he was unaware of financial difficulties at the airline, and the CAL's financial statements are currently being audited.

He said the airline's pledge of US$5 million to the Children's Life Fund will be made once the audit is complete.

The Sunday Express reported this week that the airline owed State owned fuel distributor National Petroleum $29 million.

Maharaj said it was a "revolving debt" and the facilitated line of credit between CAL and NP is nothing different from the ones NP has with other State operations like the PTSC.

"I think the question is can we afford for CAL not to continue like this. CAL is the only national airline and in the eventuality of issues with any other airline, do we want to expose our population to that level of vulnerability?" he asked.

Regarding Barbados-based low cost airline REDjet's request for State support and why this situation was different from CAL's, Maharaj said, "It's chalk and cheese. One is set up and operated by the State for a specific reason the other is a commercial enterprise and the benefits will redound to private investors."

NP's chairman Neil Gosine, who was also at the ceremony, said CAL has a credit limit of seven days, continues to pay its debt weekly and the amount is coming down.

"They always need fuel and they had ramped up their service (recently) and that's why (the debt is so high)," said Gosine.

"What would you have me do? Not provide any fuel to the national provider? We have brought in CAL to negotiate and they are in the process of continuing to pay us back. Every month they continue to take fuel and pay. CAL has their arrangement and has seven days to pay it," said Gosine, who added that CAL was the only one of their clients in this situation. —See Page 10

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