By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Sky Bahamas principal last night vowed to step aside if he was the only obstacle to the airline restarting operations, revealing he had told his managers to prepare for a Saturday resumption.
Captain Randy Butler, speaking after he met with the airline's 63 staff yesterday afternoon, told Tribune Business that the month-long wait for Sky Bahamas to receive a renewed Air Operator Certificate (AOC) from Bahamian aviation regulators has yet to end.
While the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) conducted the scheduled "on-site inspection" last Thursday at Sky Bahamas' facilities to determine whether it had satisfactorily addressed the safety concerns that led to the July 8 order to stop flying, Captain Butler said neither the findings nor a renewed AOC had been produced.
With financial losses "already in the millions" due to Sky Bahamas' inability to carry fare-paying passengers, he added that he was prepared to step down if he personally was the reason why the AOC had not been renewed.
Captain Charles Beneby, the BCAA's director-general, did not return a message seeking comment before last night's press deadline. However, Captain Butler said he had told Sky Bahamas staff - many of whom have not been fully paid from mid-July due to the flying suspension - that he was willing to sacrifice himself to save the business.
"We went through every communication and every document," he told Tribune Business of yesterday's staff meeting. "They were saying we can't keep this up for very long. I'm not going to be in the way of their livelihoods and building a great company.
"If I am the problem then whatever it takes to deal with me; I'll get out the way and let somebody else be there so people can earn a living, it can be a productive corporate citizen and fulfill some of the plans we had."
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 told Tribune Business last night that he and the airline's employees had agreed to prepare to resume flying on Saturday morning, albeit more in hope than expectation, given that there has been no indication from the Bahamian aviation regulator when or if a new AOC will be issued.
"I'll tell you this," Captain Butler said. "I asked, and they asked, and we said: 'Let's look at Friday at last thing believing we can have our AOC. I said to the managers: You plan your departments, staffing for a Saturday morning start. That's what we're planning."
He added that he "laid everything out" for Sky Bahamas' employees so they could see the airline's current situation, and determine for themselves how they needed to move forward. "These are real people being affected," Captain Butler said. "We don't know when we're going to start again.
"Some folks are really concerned about the well-being of each other and the company. We have gone above and beyond. We haven't been a perfect airline, but the staff did not think we'd done anything in any of our sectors to warrant any of this. They wanted to know what else they can do.
"They are concerned about the business and passengers in islands who traditionally do business with us. There's no reason for me not to be flying, and they [the BCAA] never said they were not going to give our AOC back. I'm waiting, sitting at my desk every day continuing this business, talking to creditors, talking to vendors, working to keep this thing going."
Captain Butler revealed that Sky Bahamas' travails had already interested industry predators and other corporate raiders seeking to cherry-pick the companies' best assets for themselves, such as its hangar and maintenance facilities.
"I've had people asking to sell," he disclosed. "They now think there's going to be a fire sale. I've always been open to a strategic partner; I've been open to that for years, even partnering with Bahamasair. It's someone who can add value to what we're planning, and expansion and development."
Captain Butler said the airline's predicament had largely been met largely with understanding from its creditors, adding: "Most of them, with the relationship we have and the understanding, we were pretty much in line.
"There's one local one becoming impatient, but everyone else has been dealing with me for 11 years. Some are getting a little tense, asking me to keep them in the loop."
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 has queried why no issues that could affect the AOC renewal were raised during that time, and why concerns are suddenly appearing now.