24-hour opening of Arthur NR International Airport?

the editor: There is a price that we must pay for everything we own, including the amenities that we enjoy, personally or as a country. Before acquiring those amenities however, it is necessary for us to recognise the cost of the benefits we derive from them and determine whether the cost justifies the benefit. It is therefore in this context that the implications of the opening of the Arthur NR Robinson International Airport on a 24-hour basis, are being examined.

In 2007, as arrivals to Tobago from The U.K and Europe continued to decline due in the main to the worsening of the adverse foreign advisories that followed a spate of rapes and attacks on visitors, the Division of tourism turned to the US market where the advisories were less prominent. Caribbean Airlines indicated in no uncertain manner, its reluctance to serve Tobago internationally.

The Assembly then engaged the services of Delta Airlines to provide Airlift between Atlanta and Tobago once weekly.

These Delta services were intended to facilitate particularly the dive segment of the leisure industry. However, the divers were not prepared to remain seven consecutive days in Tobago and therefore those that arrived in Tobago on the Delta Sunday night flight were able to fly to Port of Spain on a Wednesday or a Thursday. But there were those who wished to fly in on a Wednesday night on Continental, Delta and American through Piarco and return directly from Tobago by Delta on Sunday morning. To facilitate the latter group it was desirable that domestic flights offering connections at Piarco should be available . Unfortunately, Crown Point was closed at 10 pm and these passengers were forced to overnight in Trinidad.

This quite naturally was a serious disincentive to these divers who could board a flight in Miami, New York in the U.S or elsewhere and fly direct to Curacao, Aruba or Belize without changing flights – let alone overnighting on the way.

Over the years, as well, there were times when passengers were unable to be all accommodated on the domestic services between Trinidad and Tobago and were left stranded at either Piarco or Crown Point., but this occurs at every airport all over the world. However, since 2008, arrangements have been in place for extra flights to be operated by CAL provided prior notice is given to the Airports Authority/CAA in Tobago.

In these circumstances, the Tobago House of Assembly, in 2007 or 2008, approached the CAA with the request that it considers the opening of Crown Point Airport on a 24-hour basis. At the meetings held between the Assembly and the CAA, the Authority indicated that it was possible but extremely expensive and it will take some time to implement.

It was pointed out that another shift had to be employed and accommodation and transportation costs also had to be factored in. In addition, adequate staff needed to be trained. In fact, it was suggested that Tobagonians should be offered scholarships to become resident Air Traffic Controllers, thereby reducing the accommodation costs to the State. In fact, several advertisements were published in the local newspapers to this effect without responses. The Airports Authority would also have to provide additional funds to staff the extra shift/s. Clearly, to achieve the 24-hour a day operation at Crown Point Airport entailed significant facilitation costs and human resource adjustments.

Both the CAA and the THA agreed that given the challenges, it was not feasible to pursue the 24-hour opening option and it was proposed instead that focus should be placed on the operation of a late "Mop Up" flight, to facilitate international passengers arriving at Piarco, destined to Tobago and to accommodate local passengers wishing to use the late service. Accordingly, Caribbean Airlines was approached and agreed to operate these "Mop Up" flights three times per week departing Piarco around midnight.

These flights were to be used to test the feasibility of the flights since it was clear that if the services were not economically justifiable, Caribbean Airlines would, as they were known to do, pull the flights without warning, thereby frustrating the purpose for which they were intended and for which all the expenses were being incurred.

Caribbean Airlines agreed to operate the flights. The services were publicised internationally and domestically. However, true to form, after about two months, and without warning, the Airline discontinued these late flights. They were able to show that the flights' load factor averaged 15%, earning TT$4,500 per rotation. We are told by Caribbean Airlines that a rotation costs US7,000.00 each. This translates into a loss of approximately TT$40,000 per rotation or TT$14m per year. At this rate, the cost of this "Mop-up" flight, if operated for a year would have represented 70% of the $20m cap that was placed on the subsidy for all the domestic services. There are over 4,000 Air Bridge flights operated annually. In these circumstances, it was difficult to justify the retention of the "Mop-up" flight. With the inclusion of the airport facilitation expenditure, the cost of operating this late flight was prohibitive.

Since then, the crime situation in Trinidad and Tobago has served to discourage travel on the roads of Trinidad and Tobago after 10.00 p.m and therefore load factors on these flights can fall even further.

Running an airport is a hugely expensive business that in most countries operates along strict commercial lines, generating profits that are used in the expansion and maintenance of the facilities. At many of them, the high daylight activity compensates for the lull in night/early morning traffic. This quiet period is used to clean and service the airports in preparation for the hectic daylight operations. In Tobago, on the other hand, there are limited flight movements that do not seem to justify an uneconomical "Mop-up" flight.

We remember the promise by Minister of Works and Transport almost sixteen months ago at a meeting at Mount Irvine that the renovation and expansion of the Crown Point Airport will commence in December, 2011. This was repeated in the presence of the Prime Minister and Mr ANRRobinson International Airport when the airport was renamed last year.

I sincerely hope that the 24-hour initiative is not a Public Relations gimmick and that it will succeed and be sustained over time.

NE Wilson

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D Mouse said on Wednesday, Feb 22 at 2:19 PM

if you think spending $1000 and only getting back $100 is a good business model for Government then God Help T&T ?

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11pm arrival from miami said on Wednesday, Feb 22 at 12:55 PM

finally someone in the country actually understand the meeting of supply and demand. Tobagoians have being suffering enough when arriving into Trinidad at 11pm at night and have to wait until the next morning to be able to get to Tobago. Hopefully, the thought of the "mop up flight will be followed through.

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Batchak said on Tuesday, Feb 21 at 2:12 PM

I am just sad that I have to witness this Money wasting again! We are in a tough economic period that is getting worse. If CAL was a privately held company there would be no 24h operation on the AIR-BRIDGE and we can sadly say the Government is never good at running business to turn a profit, they should just facilitate business; What do I know ? It seems that T&T is destined to relive the past. So Far No money has gone into the "Charconia"(SP) Fund: T&T emergncy fund. for the past 2 years The Last Deposit was made by the Previous Administration Over Two years ago. So far we Have Too much borrowing Too Much spending and NO savings. They believe that the commodities market would pick up steam soon to realize more profits from petrochemical: Hydrocarbons derivatives; In my estimation Economies are too fragile for that to happen...But What Do I know ! People fail to realize that Running a Private Business is Different from running an economy.

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the virginian said on Monday, Feb 20 at 12:19 PM

'Limer,the allegation,if proven true,is understandable for a flight-leg from Piarco terminating in St.Lucia and beginning there homeward bound.I can't see what could account for regular heavy or even moderate traffic from ANR and Piarco to St.Lucia and back? So I'm not so sure that the St.Lucia case is a meaningful barometer for forecasting success or failure of the proposed 24/7 Tobago deal.Perhaps,a better yardstick might be how the Tobago deal would influence local travel for business and pleasure and whether more fun and sun seekers from abroad would find such a change facilitated them more and perhaps trigger more direct flights to ANR,ultimately.Pipe dream? When driving,there's always a blind spot,not in the mirrors,but as long as that's acknowledged and compensated for,then more likely than not,all's going to be well and you'd get home safely. There might be some concern about the impact of the regional Barbados-based fast ferry service coming on-stream later this year.

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citylimer said on Sunday, Feb 19 at 8:27 PM

Newsday 19/2/2012 Editorial - page 10 - flying empty - IT IS ALLEDGED THAT CAL is flying twice (2times) daily back to back -i.e 2 flights to and 2 flights from ST LUCIA. Apparently there is no demand because a flight last Tuesday had only 7 passengers in a 70 seat plane. DEJAVU - SOUNDS FAMILIAR.It was reported that the flight was delayed because apparently the airline tried to rustle up a few more passengers. It was ALLEDGED THAT THIS ACTION SOUNDS LIKE A MAXI TAXI HUSTLE. Look out Tobago there may be touts trying to fill a plane at night time. Perhaps the breakeven time frame would arrive soon. Beware. Imagine a tout saying 1 to go - we flying now with 1 stop at COUVA. It should be noted that LIAT is also flying to St. Lucia's George Charles the main Airport - Castries and CAL flys to the other Airport which is miles from Castries -Hewanorra Airport. The question - is this route profitable even with a fuel subsidy paid for by the taxpayers.Are there similarities with late Tobago run.

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the virginian said on Saturday, Feb 18 at 9:47 AM

Okay 'limer,I give you that one;an autopsy is in order.Well said. Take care.

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citylimer said on Friday, Feb 17 at 8:33 PM

Autopsies are performed to ascertain the cause of death and we well know the causes of death of the previous Airlines. Excesses and the mixture of prescription drugs and alcohol.If we do not learn from our suicide mission death is guaranteed. Some people do not learn from their business mistakes and some do not care when the money they are spending is not theirs.Ideological junkies have no sense of reasoning. These people have a CLIQUE O DNA and have not learned from these reckless so called excutives.

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the virginian said on Friday, Feb 17 at 7:28 PM

Hey'limer and Neil,just face it,politics is inescapable,it's in the air we breathe;it also in our hydration mix though sometimes it may be cleverly disguised but it still looks and quacks like a duck,and I'm sure you know the rest.So what!Elections have consequences as you're well aware.Anyway,wake me up when this doggone initiative materializes.Thanks. 'Limer,BWIA old and new are extinct.They're dead and now you have Caribbean Air Line,somewhat still in its infancy as compared to the once top-heavy and'overloaded'BWIA.That air carrier,and whatever it represented,should be stricken from memory and allowed to RIP.I beseech you,please be respectful of the dead,and refrain from ever referencing it again.

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citylimer said on Friday, Feb 17 at 3:53 PM

We have heard it from someone who was in the bowels of the said Airbridge.Empirical evidence is what should be used in decision making and not PR gimmicks for political purposes.CAL if it continues with these political driven decisions will surely end up like BWIA OLD AND NEW and will dump significant losses and debt on the Treasury which will have to be paid by the tax payer. A subsidized route cannot cannot afford to delve into unprofitable operations. Breakeven in two years is a pipe dream. At least test the response during peak times and if profitable reduce or eliminate during slow times.Can CAL pay its fuel bill and service its loans for the new aircrafts acquired,pay large sums into the children's fund by way of suspect profits declared without resort to the treasury. Of course not.The government is manipulating CAL for political expediency.CAL is not an ATM for the government.If CAL makes a profit and declares a dividend to the government that money must be paid to the treasury

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