By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The ‘sick-out’ by air traffic controllers over the Easter holiday weekend has given this nation’s tourism and aviation sector “a black eye”, with one Bahamian airline executive telling this newspaper: “It definitely cost us money”.
Sky Bahamas chief executive, Randy Butler, told Tribune Business that while he had not yet put a figure on the losses - incurred during a peak travel period - the flight delays and cancellations had ruined what could have been a “perfect weekend”.
“We thought that this would have been a perfect weekend to recover,” Mr Butler said. “We were looking at a break-even situation [instead]. We are competing with Bahamasair that has more capacity and new equipment, and the rates are the same.
“We were just looking at the frequency. Getting more flights out would have put us in a good position. It definitely cost us money. How much I can’t say right now, but certainly it cost us in overtime, having to refund tickets and cancel flights and all that kind of stuff. The goodwill is something that air traffic and all of us should pay attention to.”
Mr Butler added: “People were planning to spend time with their relatives, and there were a number of homecomings that were basically ruined. We had put some extra flights in the system.
“A lot of the passengers, even though we told them what was going on, they didn’t understand. Having people sitting in the airplane for a prolonged period was very uncomfortable. There was a safety element as well.
“I’m grateful that the entire industry was safe that day. The air traffic controllers, Government and whoever else is involved needs to sit down and work this thing out. Continuously doing this kind of thing on the holidays is putting a black eye on the industry. Bahamasair might be able to cope with something like that but we can’t. I think this again just speaks to the fact that there is no strategic planning, no contingency for these type of things that we know can happen during the holidays.”
Glenys Hanna Martin, minister of transport and aviation, said of the air traffic controllers: “They had a sick-out during the first shift. That created serious problems throughout the rest of the day Thursday.
“It was very unfortunate. I think this is likely to have a significant impact on the economy due to the delayed and cancelled flights, with people not being able to get here to participate in the economy.
“Then there is the reputational damage. It gives us a black eye. It gives the impression of instability. I understand that the Minister of Labour met with them last week and is supposed to meet with them again.”
When contacted for comment, Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Union (BATCU) president, Hinsey McKenzie, said the union would likely make a formal statement today or tomorrow.
This Easter period is not the first time that air traffic controllers have inconvenienced passengers. Last September, a three-hour stoppage by the union over an Airport Authority protocol mandating security screening of all personnel accessing the secured air-side at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) caused delays and some cancellations.