NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an opportunity for an overhaul of the Bahamian aviation sector, according to an industry operator.
Anthony K Hamilton, president of the Bahamas Association of Air Transport Operators told Eyewitness News that domestic operators were at a significant disadvantage without the benefit of government subventions like Bahamasair.
“An industry overhaul is necessary given the circumstances,” he said.
“It makes sense that we do a proper evaluation of the industry. Given that Bahamasair is riding on the public purse and practitioners in the industry don’t have the benefit of that system it puts us at a serious disadvantage.”
His comments come as Bahamasair’s chairman Tommy Turnquest recently told Eyewitness News that the national flag carrier saw a delay in salary payments last week as a direct result of the airline’s dire financial situation.
Turnquest said the airline has to rely heavily on the government to maintain its operations and keep its nearly 600 employees on the payroll.
Tourism Minister D’Aguilar yesterday said that the government has “not contemplated” layoffs at airline and so the “status quo remains”.
Hamilton told Eyewitness News that the contribution of the domestic aviation sector to the country’s gross domestic product is significant however has not been properly assessed due to the lack of data collection.
Still, he noted that a proper assessment of the industry would allow for more informed decisions to be made on its future.
“Properly informed decisions must be made for the benefit of us all,” said Hamilton.
“Right now the nation is hemorrhaging and we wherever we can correct the situation and put ourselves on a better footing we must. This industry has not performed to the benefit of the nation. We don’t want to see anything harmful happen to Bahamairair’s employees. We know the pain of it.”
He said: “In the domestic aviation sector, we don’t just service New Providence but also the family islands. They are feeling the pinch right now because of our failure to be able to participate right now. We have employees in those islands that are not able to generate an income. This situation commands that we sit down and analyze this industry properly,”
D’Aguilar spoke to reporters on Bahamsair’s woes ahead of a Cabinet meeting yesterday.
He said: “Every airline in the world is reeling from a reduction in revenue. The government has a number of agencies that get most of its revenue from user fees.
“All of these agencies are impacted by the fact that travel has been significantly reduced and the government has been exploring options on when and how to relaunch Bahamasair but understand that even in the US there has been a substantial decrease in the amount of service and a vast amount of people have exited the service.”
D’Aguilar acknowledged that with little to no revenue coming in, Bahamasair is struggling to make payroll and requires significant government assistance in that regard.