Tuesday, January 21, 2020
EDITOR, The Tribune.
THE national airline of The Bahamas – Bahamasair – has been operating for decades in the ignominy of being a “burden” to the citizens of the Bahamas. We hear the narrative all the time “shut it down” when the facts remain that the airline is a tool that has not been utilised effectively to assist in the growth of the Bahamian economy, instead it has been a convenient tool used by the politicians who hypocritically lambaste its lack of performance from the confines of the House of Assembly.
Deputy Prime Minister/ Minister of Finance Mr Peter K Turnquest stated in his 2018/2019 budget communication:
“The persistent and long-standing relatively flat performance of the air and stay-over segment of the tourism market is particularly troubling as that is the portion that makes the most significant contribution to the growth of value-added in the tourism industry.”
This begs one to question, if this is a known reality why isn’t more being done on our behalf to create growth in a sector that feeds our nation? Are we waiting for the foreign airlines to be our saving grace? Why aren’t we taking control of our destiny by creating the airlift that we so desperately need?
Members of the Bahamas Airline Pilots Association (B-ALPA) are of the view that the much-needed growth in stop over visitors can easily be accomplished if Bahamasair is provided with the tools needed for its success.
The failures of Bahamasair are the result of three fundamental issues.
• Firstly, a clear vision has not been created outlining and defining the airlines goals and objectives.
• Secondly, no plan has been put in place to make these goals a reality;
• Thirdly, persons possessing the know-how, expertise and talents needed to execute this plan have not been sourced. There is a pool of international expertise available that can be called on to assist. This would allow Bahamians to work side by side with them gaining valuable experience and knowledge.
In 2018 the airline would have seen revenues earned in near or in excess of $100M, with a projected subvention of only $13.3M from the shareholder, the government of the Bahamas. The Budget of the Bahamas in 2018 was $2.6B when compared to the projected subvention this amounts to 0.5% of total annual government expenditure. When comparing value for money these three points should be considered:
Using the airline to control ticket pricing and ensure travel is affordable to the Bahamas. Case in point, during the early 2000s Bahamasair had stopped Its Marsh Harbour to West Palm Beach route for a short time, during this period US Air Express and Gulfstream Intl. Airways, drastically increased the fare overnight. Bahamasair had to restore services immediately to regulate the cost of air travel between those two city pairs.
Market volatility due to global events. After the tragedy of 9/11 most if not all international airlines serving the Bahamas retracted services to the country. Bahamasair maintained its international presence in South Florida but showed that a much wider international footprint was needed as a buffer in case a global catastrophe once again threatened tourism arrivals.
International airline subsidisation. In the early 2000s, American airlines attempted to strong-arm the islands in the Eastern Caribbean to pay for airlift services. Without airlift their burgeoning eco-tourism model would have been jeopardised. However, they did not cave under that pressure and between LIAT and Air Jamaica got the airlift support needed to sustain their tourism models.
With the dependence on tourism and airlift in the domestic Bahamian economy, a viable national airline is a necessity
As an association, we have been querying management to provide us with a copy of the business plan and operating model, one that can be scrutinised, to show definitively a clear plan for the future and growth of the airline but have yet to receive one. This has led us to conclude there is no plan.
It is mind boggling and quite frankly inconceivable, that a corporate entity with the business capacity to earn revenues in excess of $100m is operating and conducting its business without a plan.
Proverbs 29:18 states “Where there is no vision, the people perish….’’
B-ALPA would like to pose the following question to the powers that be. Why aren’t we utilising our greatest natural resource of location with a hub and spoke business model for not only passengers, but also cargo connecting the world through The Bahamas? In terms of geographic proximity, Miami International is similar and Miami is used as a connecting gateway to the world. We can take a page out of the Emirati’s book, their state-owned airline effectively and successfully, supporting a business model that connects the world through their hub in Dubai.
Our organisation consists of experts from all facets of the airline business and we are willing to assist in providing solutions to fix the issues that plague the airline so that it can become the catalyst that we so desperately need to assist in providing the spark to bring growth to the economy. We call on shareholders to produce a viable business plan and operating model for the National Airline.
JAMAL B GRAY
Bahamas Airline Pilots Association (B-ALPA)
January 20, 2020.