FIRST OF NINE: CAL engineer Fazad Ali, centre, exits the new ATR 72-600 68-seater plane, the first of nine new planes bought by Caribbean Airlines Ltd. Transport Minister Devant Maharaj, fourth from left, CAL chairman George Nicholas, third from left, and the rest of the CAL board were part of the welcoming group. —Photo: MICHEAL BRUCE

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Nicholas: CAL makes $200m profit

By Renuka Singh

Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) chairman George Nicholas is boasting that despite recent troubles, the national airline not only raked in $200 million in profits, but is also putting money back into the country's coffers.

"We will close a profit of $200 million this year, even with reduced fares and increased flights. Accordingly we are able to put millions into the treasury," he said. Nicholas made the statement at he welcomed the first of nine new aircraft at the Piarco International Airport yesterday.

"CAL is a profitable organisation," he said.

Nicholas said Air Jamaica, after the merger, also made its first ever consecutive profit in its 50-year history.

While Nicholas praised the staff for the massive profit, he noted that it was possible even against a backdrop that included several obstacles.

"We know that some of our regional neighbours pay for flights to and from their country and also give our competitors subsidies, in addition to fuel hedges which amount to more than the fuel subsidy which we receive," he said.

"As to our subsidy, there are some months when we have used it and other months when we repaid it several times over," he said.

He said while the United States Government gave billions of dollars to its domestic airlines, CAL was able to pay for these nine new planes out of its own internal cash flow.

"If others knew how many millions their regional Governments pay for flights, in addition to their citizens paying for tickets, there would be some strong reaction," he said.

"We are doing things differently. It was interesting that the first people to notice that was the foreigners. It has been a very tough year but Caribbean Airlines is flying routes to make money," he said.

He said these new ATR planes will help foster "much improved regional integration".

He said CAL was beginning a global initiative by preparing to fly to Mumbai, India and Johannesburg, South Africa early next year and Nigeria, Brazil and another possible two US gateways.

Nicholas said his projection for the airline included increasing the staff by 200-300 as part of the personnel team.

"Only a few could have imagined in the recent past that this could have occurred," he said, referring to several hiccups during his stint as CAL chairman.

After several clashes with former Transport Minister Jack Warner, Nicholas again tendered his resignation under new Transport Minister Devant Maharaj in August, but this was refused by the Government.

Nicholas said he was now pleased to be involved with a airline that owns "the kind of aircraft that we are proud to own".

Nicholas said this new 68- seater plane will begin flights to Tobago in two weeks and expected the other nine planes to be delivered monthly.

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