By Khrisna Virgil
AS Bahamasair continues to investigate who is at fault for three of its jets being blocked from flying to the US, officials have recently discovered that the airline was granted a waiver until 2024 to continue operations, but were unaware of its stipulations.
According to Bahamasair chairman Tommy Turnquest yesterday, “it wasn’t until a member on the executive team read the (Federal Aviation Administration) waiver fully” and was able to determine that the jet flights were allowed but at the risk of daily scheduling.
Mr Turnquest made the revelation yesterday when he was asked whether the board of directors was looking into holding someone accountable for the oversight.
He added that last Wednesday, the government was refunded $200,000 from supplier Fokker for reneging on its agreement to deliver three avionic kits for the company’s three 737-500 planes.
The situation, Mr Turnquest told The Tribune, is expected to be rectified by January 31 with the services of a new supplier, putting an end to the FAA grounding the aircraft.
“Yes (but) Bahamasair has an excellent maintenance facility in terms of what we do,” he said, responding to a question on whether there would be fall out over the missed deadline.
“Unfortunately what happened was, as we’re finding out, they thought we had a waiver so they weren’t trying to get the navigational equipment quite as quickly as we thought they should have asked us.
“After Fokker didn’t fulfil its obligation, we got a waiver from the FAA, which allows us to fly the planes into the US until 2024. The problem was it requires us to request special permission each and every time we are about to fly that plane into the United States.
“We thought that that was too restrictive.
“The problem was that when they said we had the waiver, we did have a waiver per se but not one for a scheduled airline like Bahamasair that made sense,” Mr Turnquest continued. “It wasn’t until a member on the executive team read the waiver fully and was then able to say ‘yeah we could go, but it makes no sense putting our schedule in that type of risk.’”
While he did not disclose who the airline’s new supplier is, Mr Turnquest said the company has already completed engineering for the navigational kits.
“They are going to provide it for us this week and we’ve made provisions starting on Monday of next week to put the first one in. We will finish that one by Friday (January) the 24 and then we’ll start the second one, which we’ll finish by the 31st of January.”
The third kit will be put in at a facility where the third jet is undergoing heavy maintenance. This process will take about 70 days, Mr Turnquest said.
Throughout the ordeal, the chairman said he was disappointed that many customers believed Bahamasair had been completely banned from flights to the US.
However, he said, at no time did the company, which has nine planes, have to change scheduling.
“What disappointed me is people thought that Bahamasair couldn’t fly into the United States. People called me and said they had reservations asking if we were going, but we didn’t change any of our schedules and we fulfilled all of our obligations.
“The only reason we wet leased on those two flights is because we had a heavy load on those two flights. But the 737-700 has been back and forth and all of our ATRs are able to fly to the US so there was no problem about Bahamasair going to the US.”
Ultimately, he said, the wet lease resulted in a $23,000 profit for the airline.
“It cost us around $42,000 and we were able to sell 157 or so seats. The plane is able to carry 160 passengers, so we actually put $22,000 to the bottom line, $23,000 actually.”
Last week, Mr Turnquest told another media outlet he was blindsided by the situation, insisting he should have been made aware of the issues with Fokker sooner.
Earlier this month, The Tribune reported how three of Bahamasair’s largest planes had been blocked from entering the United States because they lacked surveillance technology demanded by the FAA.
The FAA in 2010 issued a rule requiring aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B avionics by January 1, 2020. The technology improves safety and efficiency in the air and on runways through its tracking capabilities.
However, it was difficult for Bahamasair to secure necessary kits for the company’s 737-500 planes, an older generation of Boeing jets.
The company signed a contract in June for a supplier to deliver three kits in September, October and November of last year but that supplier reneged on its responsibilities, Mr Turnquest had said earlier. The airline had paid the company $200,000 of its $600,000 contract.