By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Sky Bahamas was last night embroiled in a new stand-off over an “on-site inspection” - scheduled for today - that its regulator will use to determine if the airline has addressed its concerns.
Captain Randy Butler, Sky Bahamas’ principal, told Tribune Business his confidence in the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) had been eroded because the regulator was consistently “moving the goal posts” in terms of what it needed to meet to have its Air Operator Certificate (AOC) renewed.
Emphasising that he had “no objection” to the inspection if the aviation regulator stuck to its own rules and guidance materials, and provided a written list of what it wanted to assess, Captain Butler argued that it had yesterday altered the terms by sending out a list of Sky Bahamas employees it wanted to interview.
With the airline effectively grounded since July 8, he said he was now faced with calling in staff who had been sent home and may have found jobs elsewhere. The Sky Bahamas chief added that the regulator had also yet to provide the carrier with a written list of what it wished to examine.
Captain Charles Beneby, the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority’s director-general, in a July 30 letter to Sky Bahamas’ attorneys confirmed that the inspection was necessary to assess whether the regulators concerns had been satisfactorily addressed.
“I am advised that, in order for your client’s information to be effectively assessed and accepted, that a follow-up on-site inspection at your client’s facility will be required in order to inspect your client’s facility, records and interview management personnel to confirm that the findings were satisfactorily addressed,” he told Tamica Colebrook of the Karam, Missick & Bowe law firm.
The letter identified Vincent Turnquest and Ladario Brown as the inspectors, and sought agreement that it would begin at 10am today. However, a second letter from Captain Beneby, sent yesterday, declined to provide Sky Bahamas’ attorneys with further information or the “job aid” that guides how the inspection will be conducted.
“I respectfully reiterate that the Authority is unable to provide further comment in regard to the subject findings until the completion of the requested inspection,” he said. “I can clarify that the inspection will be limited to verifying that your client has now satisfactorily addressed the subject findings as were communicated to you in my letter of July 19, 2019.
“Until that inspection has been completed, those findings are to be considered unresolved.” Captain Beneby requested that Sky Bahamas’ “accountable manager”, and directors of safety, training and oversight, together with the carrier’s dispatchers, be present for today’s inspection and again sought confirmation on the time.
Captain Beneby said he was busy and unable to talk when contacted by this newspaper last night. He promised that if unable to call back before press time he would do so this morning.
However, Captain Butler argued that the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority “just keeps bringing new requirements”, even though the first letter said it wanted to interview unspecified management personnel.
“I’ve told them I’m only prepared [to agree to the inspection] if they’re going to do it as per their regulations and guidance material,” he told Tribune Business. “That tells them they have to notify me of what they’re going to do and the parameters of what they are looking for.
“I don’t trust them any more. I don’t have any relationship. We’ve gone from a very simple inspection to not renewing the AOC, and the back and forth with the director-general. I keep telling him to put their concerns in black and white, and when they do so it’s not what was agreed.
“I have no safety concerns that they have identified. We don’t have any safety concerns. I said to them over and over: Would you please list which of these things are safety concerns. They won’t do that.”
Captain Butler and Sky Bahamas are bitterly contesting the findings of a May 2019 safety inspection, the findings of which were cited as justification for not renewing the airline’s AOC - the approval it needs to carry fare-paying passengers on commercial flights.
The carrier is alleging that it properly addressed the findings via written replies prior to the July 8, 2019, letter from the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority that ordered it to stop flying because the AOC had not been renewed.
Captain Butler is challenging this, pointing to language in Sky Bahamas’ AOC that he alleges allows it to remain in effect until either suspended, terminated or revoked - none of which has occurred.
He has also repeatedly asked why, given that the safety inspection in question took place at end-May, the airline was allowed to keep flying for another month before the regulator ordered it to cease on July 8.
Sky Bahamas and other airlines are also subject to constant surveillance year-round by the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority, with inspectors going on flights and attending training programmes. Captain Butler queried why no issues that could affect the AOC renewal were raised during that time, and why concerns are suddenly appearing now.
The financial impact on Sky Bahamas and its 63 employees from the three-week plus grounding has been significant, with Captain Butler telling this newspaper this week that the airline would be “past the point of no return” without the outside financial assistance it has received.