Farley Augustine – File Photo
THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine is calling for Caribbean Airlines (CAL) to make travelling between Trinidad and Tobago a priority.
On Sunday, thousands of CAL passengers were left stranded when 60 international and domestic flights were cancelled after pilots called in sick. The resulting backlog continued into Monday.
In a WhatsApp voice note, Augustine said the assembly and the wider Tobago public have been dealing with issues surrounding CAL for far too long.
He said for more than a year the assembly has been advocating, making noise and quarrelling with CAL about the management of the airbridge.
“We have been advocating for the return of the 24-hour-daily flights. We still have not gone back to pre-covid19 numbers of flights, and every time we raise the issue, Cabinet members, including those that represent Tobago in the Cabinet, tend to push back and say, ‘Well, it’s not profitable enough for us to provide the flights.’”
He said it is ridiculous that people will spend months trying to get a flight to Tobago.
“It is 2023 and the air- and seabridge now are more inconsistent than it was pre-covid19. That could never ever be a hallmark of success. More than that, I think it is time as a country that we have a conversation about removing the monopoly not just on the local airbridge, but the monopoly across the airline industry in the country. We need to just open up our market to airlines from all over the world to come and do the work that is necessary.”
He said CAL needs to understand it has a duty to the nation first before any other country.
“It is the taxpayers of this country that pays them and bails them out every single time, and yet we are all treated with scant courtesy by CAL.”
The Tobago People’s Party (TPP) says it stands united with the residents of and visitors to Tobago who have endured the immense inconvenience caused by the cancellations.
In a statement, the TPP said though the disruptions were attributed to “resource constraints,” such excuses cannot mask the failure of the Central Government, including the Prime Minister, ministers of Finance and Works and Transport, and the MPs for Tobago East and West, to address this critical issue effectively.
“The TPP is not oblivious to the frustration and hardships faced by those whose travel plans have been thrown into disarray. We empathise deeply and extend our support to all those affected by this dire situation. The impact of these disruptions stretches far beyond inconvenience; however, it affects our domestic and international connectivity and has broader economic implications for our island.”
It added that in light of those unforeseen circumstances, one must acknowledge the steadfast dedication and tireless efforts of the staff at the Port Authority and the Airport Authority of TT.
“Their commitment to ensuring the continuation of services in the face of adversity is commendable. It is their unwavering dedication that has helped mitigate the repercussions of this disruption, providing essential support to affected individuals.
“Notwithstanding,” it went on, “we cannot ignore the elephant in the room – the lack of effective leadership and proactive measures taken by the Central Government. The crisis at hand exposes their inability to handle crucial matters that impact the livelihoods and well-being of the people they serve.”
It said the TPP is demanding answers and accountability from CAL but is also calling upon the government officials to step up, take responsibility, and provide immediate solutions to restore CAL’s flights to normal.
“The people of Tobago, and Trinidad and Tobago by extension, deserve better than this, and it is high time that those who are charged with this responsibility of maintaining connectivity between the islands, the region and the world at large, address this critical issue with the urgency it demands.”