BAHAMASAIR was yesterday monitoring the ‘opening of the skies’ between the US and Cuba, its managing director acknowledging: “We are concerned about it.”
The US and Cuba have struck a deal to allow as many as 110 regular airline flights a day, allowing a surge of Americans to travel direct to Cuba rather than transit through the Bahamas and use airlines such as Bahanmasair.
The agreement was reached on Wednesday night after three days of talks in Washington, opening the way for US airlines to negotiate with Cuba’s government for 20 routes a day to Havana, and 10 to each of Cuba’s other nine major airports.
Henry Woods, Bahamsair’s managing director, said: “At the moment, [US] carriers are only allowed to operate charter flights, and certain categories of travellers are not allowed to fly directly into Cuba. The agreement that has been reached now, I’m learning, may take up to three years before it comes into effect. In any event, we are monitoring it.”
Mr Woods added: “At the moment, our loads to Cuba are very good. We are concerned about these developments and we are following the change in US and Cuban law and, as it progresses, we will adjust.
“I can’t say any more than that at the moment, but we are definitely concerned. At the moment we don’t have reason to be overly concerned, but it is a situation that we will continue to monitor.”
The issue has also reared its head in industrial negotiations between Bahamasair and the Airline, Airport and Allied Workers Union (AAAWU), with the former’s director of human resources, Selvin Basden, citing it as one reason why the national flag carrier faces “stark financial realities”.
“Our subvention from the Government was cut from $20.7 million to $14.8 million, creating a shortfall of $6.9 million for the current financial year,” Ms Basden wrote in a letter to Ms Harding.
“The loss of our repatriation charters to Haiti accounts for a further loss of $1.6 million, and our Havana flights are now under serious threat due to policy shifts towards Cuba by the United States government. These are the realities we must face.”
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe previously said the Christie administration is working with the Cuban government to develop a “multi-destination” travel arrangement with the Bahamas.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Perry Christie said Mr Wilchcombe was in Cuba meeting with the relevant authorities to discuss the issue.
He said: “The minister of tourism is currently in Cuba discussing with the relevant authorities the relationship for added-on visitations, people who fly into Cuba, whether directly from China or whether they go on a cruise ship.
“They would be boarded there, but to be able to have those visitors have a connection with the Bahamas, we will see the extent to which we are able to benefit from the strengthening of our relationship from a business perspective with Cuba.”