Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said Bahamasair “made a mistake” not acquiring the technology necessary for entry into the United States ahead of a January 1, 2020 deadline.
The Federal Aviation Administration mandated in 2010 that aircraft be equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B) capabilities by the first of this year. That technology improves safety and efficiency in the air and on runways through its tracking capabilities.
Critics attacked the government after learning three of Bahamasair’s jets have been blocked from entering the United States because they lack the surveillance technology.
Tommy Turnquest, chairman of the national airline, said though a contract was executed last June for a company to supply tracking kits for its three 737-500 jets in September, October and November of 2019, that supplier reneged on its responsibilities. The airline had already paid the company, Fokker Services, $200,000 of its $600,000 contract. Mr Turnquest said Bahamasair is trying to recoup the payments.
On Friday, Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis said Mr D’Aguilar should have known about the impending deadline and made his Cabinet colleagues aware of the need for provisions.
“Bahamasair is run by a professional group of people with technical expertise, not politicians who do not have the first clue about how to run an airline,” Mr D’Aguilar responded yesterday. “A politician’s job is to make sure the airline has authorisation and expertise. The experts selected a company and knew which devices were to be installed.
“In hindsight, when Fokker missed the first deadline (in September), that should have triggered them to move to plan B. But they may have been minded to continue because they had already paid the $200,000 down payment and they probably considered the fact that Fokker is a reputable company. I think they would agree that when that reputable company failed to provide the services, they should’ve gone to plan B, so that’s what I would say if I had to provide some constructive criticism. By the time Fokker informed them it wouldn’t make any of the deadlines it was probably too late to put in place a mitigation plan. They made a mistake. Businesses make mistakes all the time. I’ve made many mistakes as a businessman.”
Although airlines had ten years to prepare for the FAA’s rule, officials say it would have been impractical to acquire the technology too early without knowing what changes may lay ahead for the airline’s fleet.
Mr Turnquest says he expects no disruption to Bahamasair’s US services. The airline has nine planes: five ATRs, including two 70-seaters and three 5-seaters; three 737-500 planes that can carry 12 people each and one 138-seater 737-790 plane. One of the 737-500 planes was already scheduled to be out of commission for a maintenance check in Costa Rica expected to last about 75 days, Mr Turnquest said. The remaining two jets, he said, will be used for temporary routes to Grand Bahama, Exuma and Haiti. The ATRs will be used for US routes.
“It can be costly to run an airline but I don’t expect this to be disruptive,” Mr D’Aguilar said. “If loads get heavy, they’ll do what they have done in the past. At every point they’ll be able to see what they need and if necessary, other aircrafts could be provided through a wet lease arrangement. The PLP is looking to say, ‘oh the minister screwed up.’ Sure, they will make a mistake from time to time but that has nothing to do with the political directorate. It’s clever for Brave to want to attack the politician but it’s up to management to monitor the contract. Bahamasair has 700 people to sit on top of these deadlines and install the necessary equipment. I wouldn’t tell you when and what equipment needs to be installed and I shouldn’t have to tell you that because that’s what they are there for.”
For his part, Mr Davis also questioned the financial implications of the jets being put on Family Island routes.
“The government expects us to believe that with passenger numbers traditionally down in the first quarter, they are going to burn fuel to fly 10 to 40 people on a 128-seat jet to our Family Islands. How is that financially sensible or sustainable?” Mr Davis asked.