Tobago Business Chamber to CAL: Don’t blame airbridge for economic woes

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Tobago Business Chamber president Martin George. –

The Tobago Business Chamber has slammed Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) for suggesting that the domestic airbridge is to be blamed for its “economic woes and failures” over the years.

On Thursday, CAL issued a release, saying it has consistently been increasing flights between Trinidad and Tobago since the country’s borders were reopened in July 2021.

However, the airline said its operations between the two islands have been characterised by heavy and consistent losses, amounting to millions of dollars.

Its statement came after THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, in a television interview on Wednesday, criticised CAL for not providing an appropriate number of flights to Tobago.

The THA, hoteliers and other stakeholders have been clamouring for an increase in the number of flights, particularly during peak travel periods.

In a WhatsApp video on Friday, the chamber’s chairman Martin George said while it has taken note of CAL’s safety record, “We are concerned about the release that was given today (Thursday) because it appears to in some way seek to try to castigate and place blame on the domestic airbridge route for their economic woes and failures over the years.”

Saying he hoped this was not the case, George said he was willing to give CAL the opportunity to clarify its position.

But he said if that was the reason “why they went into talking about their domestic operation being characterised by consistent losses and in giving all the figures, then I take very strong umbrage to that, not just as the chairman of the Tobago Business Chamber but also as a citizen of TT.

“Because we all know that this is an airline, since it was born, (that) has been characterised by losses.

“So it has nothing to do with the domestic airbridge and it is not fair to Tobagonians or Trinbagonians in general to seek to place the blame for it.

“We have seen in the past the catastrophic disasters and failures of failed investments, failed ventures by Caribbean Airlines in all sorts of flights of fancy and other expensive financial forays which have only ended to their detriment.”

He called on CAL to clarify its position or withdraw the statement.

Describing CAL’s position as “appalling and debasing” to Tobagonians, George said freedom of movement is a fundamental human right, and this applied to movement between Trinidad and Tobago.

“And I am not just speaking for persons who may be coming up from Trinidad for a vacation to relax in Tobago. I am speaking about Tobagonians who need the essential service on the airbridge.”

“So please, do not insult the intelligence of the population of TT with this puerile pathetic statement.”

George said there is tremendous need for more flights on the airbridge.

“We are willing as a business chamber, and I am sure the THA is willing, to work along with CAL.

“So please, CAL, we do not accept and utterly reject this attempt on your part to seek to cast aspersions and to deflect from the issues.”

George also called on the Prime Minister not to ignore the plight of his fellow Tobagonians and Trinidadians “who are stranded at the airport sometimes and can’t get a booking for a flight.

“We need more flights on the domestic route, plain and simple. There is no other way to put it and there is no way to sugarcoat it or to get around it.”

Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association vice-president Carol-Ann Birchwood-James, responding to the CAL release, believes the Prime Minister should advocate for more flights to Tobago.

“It can’t be the Chief Secretary (Farley Augustine) alone. They are not going to listen to him. He does not have the clout to negotiate with the powers that be at CAL,” she told Newsday.

She said boats and airlines are already booked for the October Carnival.

“So we have to look at these issues and solve them now.”

Birchwood-James said the THA should also consider leasing an aircraft for travel to Tobago, especially during busy periods like Easter, the July-August vacation and the upcoming October Carnival.

“You have to assure people that they can get access to the island. Right now that is not happening.”

She said some of the association’s members wanted to attend a funeral in Tobago on Thursday but could not get a flight.

“So beside the tourism, ordinary Tobagonians and Trinidadians cannot even come to do business and go back home.”