By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister yesterday suggested that Sky Bahamas’ inability to secure a renewal of its air operator certificate (AOC) is not the sole factor behind its potential demise.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, said that “bills and operational difficulties” appeared to “have been mounting” for some time prior to the airline’s clash with the industry regulator over alleged safety deficiencies that resulted in it being told not to fly from July 8.
Speaking before a Cabinet meeting yesterday Mr D’Aguilar said: “Sky Bahamas, I understand, is still having its operations reviewed and its air operator certificate evaluated. I think the regulator is probably close to making that decision.
“I want to dispel the notion that somehow this process of applying for an air operator certificate led to the demise of Sky Bahamas. Certainly the action taken by Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) at the airport would have been building for some time.
“NAD took Sky Bahamas to court and received an award for the ability to take the action they have. I guess the bills have been mounting, operational difficulties have been mounting. I have said it before and say it again.”
The airline and Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) operator have been in dispute over a long-standing six-figure sum in passenger facility user fees and security fees allegedly owed by Sky Bahamas.
It emerged last year that the airline owed NAD some $621,691 as at January 9, 2018, although this was cut to $454,015 by June 29 last year. NAD at the time had threatened to terminate the airline’s licence to operate at LPIA over the arrears.
Captain Randy Butler, Sky Bahamas’ principal, downplayed the issue when it surfaced last year. He recently told Tribune Business that the carrier had paid some $1m to NAD over the past year in an effort to catch up, blaming some arrears in free flights provided to political party members in the run-up to the 2017 general election.
However, NAD has now obtained a Supreme Court Order, dated July 23, where Justice Diane Stewart required Sky Bahamas to “cease all operations at the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) and vacate property leased to it” by NAD within 14 days. However, NAD subsequently gave Sky Bahamas some 90 days to vacate in an August 9 letter.
The Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority’s (BCAA) order that Sky Bahamas cease commercial flights from July 8 has cost the airline millions of dollars in lost revenue and reputational value. The company has been unable to pay staff, resulting in some employees filing a trade dispute with the Department of Labour, while a notice posted at the weekend suggests Sky Bahamas has been evicted from its head office.
“Effective Saturday, August 17, 2019, the previous tenant of these premises, Sky Bahamas Airlines, has been evicted and the premises have been secured and reoccupied by the owner, AOG Maintenance Company. The contents of the premises are presently destrained for rent,” the notice said.
“Access to, and entry upon these premises for any reason by any person is forbidden save with the express permission of AOG Maintenance Company... Trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Mr D’Aguilar yesterday reiterated that he will not personally intervene in the dispute between Sky Bahamas and the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority. “As any sensible minister, this is not a process that I as a political appointee will get involved in,” he added.
“This is strictly between an operator and regulator in a very technical field. I must allow that process to take its course. I’m certainly in the background trying to ensure the process is fair and the evaluation is happening as fast as it can.”
Mr D’Aguilar said it would be “naive” to suggest Sky Bahamas’ absence has not been felt. “Obviously when you are an airline out of a particular route there is going to be an impact,” he added.
“It would be naive to say there hasn’t been an impact. A number of foreign visitors have come to the country, have purchased tickets on Sky Bahamas looking to get on that plane, and then finding it’s not in operation and having to go to alternative means. Competitors are obviously moving to fill that void.”