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Airline Hopes Lpia Woes Stay Below $100,000

By NEIL HARTNELL Tribune Business Editor A LEADING Bahamian-owned airline yesterday said it was hoping that extra fuel and overtime costs incurred due to delays at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) over the Christmas-New Year week did not hit the $100,000 mark, while disclosing that load factors on its domestic routes had fallen to 39-42 per cent. Captain Randy Butler, president and chief executive at Sky Bahamas, told Tribune Business that the carrier was expecting to incur at least $70,000 in extra costs due to the delays resulting from a combination of air traffic controller 'go slows' and congested skies in the Bahamas/Miami area. Explaining that he was meeting with management yesterday to establish the true position, Captain Butler said: "We had some losses. We just lost $48,400 in fuel alone over the Christmas week, and then there's overtime. "Hopefully, we did not touch the $100,000 mark, but we're definitely over the $70,000 mark, and then there's other additional fees." Captain Butler said that while the problems were not the fault of the Government, or minister of tourism and aviation, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, the latter should have addressed the airline industry on the issue to "show he's in charge, and managing it". While air traffic had "said sorry", the Sky Bahamas chief said the whole episode -which occurred at the busiest time of year for the airline industry - had "given the Bahamas a black eye" when it came to its tourism reputation, and with the travelling public. Again emphasising that the airline industry "sympathised with the issues" the Government was having at LPIA, and over the industrial negotiations with air traffic controllers, Captain Butler criticised its response to the situation was "very weak". It indicated, he added, that "no one cares". Meanwhile, Bahamian airlines - and the industry in general - were heading into the traditionally quiet month of January. Travellers are usually recovering from the Christmas/New Year period, and the peak winter tourism season only starts building in February, hitting its peak in March through April. "This is typically the slow period for us, where we have 39-42 per cent capacity load factors on domestic routes," Captain Butler told Tribune Business. "We're working hard to be creative, keep people employed and keep working. "To the US, we have five-six people on a 33-seater going to Florida right now, so on those US routes, load factors are 15 per cent. So thank God for the domestic routes. "We'll have a little swell in February, and at the end of March it will pick up again. This is the period for refurbishing, heavy maintenance and reducing operating costs. I am going to keep working, and lead a good group of people here at Sky Bahamas. My people are the greatest asset I have." Mr Vanderpool-Wallace, in a previous interview with Tribune Business, said that while he had been "bombarded with complaints", felt the 'go slow' by Bahamian air traffic controllers would not damage this nation's tourism brand and reputation. "I'm very concerned," Mr Vanderpool-Wallace told Tribune Business. "I've been bombarded with a number of complaints from airlines, visiting tourists and Bahamians returning for the Christmas holidays. "It's been affecting everyone. There's no question it's had an impact, and I'm hoping it can be resolved." The air traffic controllers' grievances relate mainly to staffing and hours of work, plus the condition of equipment such as LPIA's radar and its maintenance. "The volume of traffic for the last few days has been the highest for the year," Mr Vanderpool-Wallace said of LPIA. "You get a combination of lack of enthusiasm and high passenger volumes, and you can see the results of it. "We were also impacted by Air Traffic Control in Miami putting a ground hold on aircraft taking off because of congestion in the skies." Acknowledging that he was "always" concerned about the effect such incidents could have on the Bahamas' reputation as a tourism destination, Mr Vanderpool-Wallace said no negative impact had occurred yet. "I don't think so as yet," he added. "There's obviously some disgruntlement and disaffection. It's been offset by us having some spectacular weather, the best we've had at this time of year for a decade."

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