‘No benefits for REDjet’
MARIGOT, St. Martin, CMC – The chief executive officer of the region’s only low budget carrier, REDjet Friday said his organisation as a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) enterprise has been denied many of the benefits and rights entitled to it legally under several agreements among regional countries.
Addressing the inaugural Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) State of the Industry Conference here, Ian Burns said that the agreements, including the Revised Treaty of Chaaguaramas that governs the regional integration movement, “have failed to deliver on their objectives”.
“The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, originally signed in 1973 speaks to a number of issues facing members of the Caribbean community including economics and economic integration, trade, foreign policy coordination and functional cooperation. “This treaty, in its Sixth Chapter makes specific reference to a Community Transport Policy which, explicitly speaks to all of us sitting here. Whether or not we are in the aviation and/or tourism sectors, the ability and permission to move persons freely throughout the CARICOM and the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME) community is the backbone of our industries,” Burns said.
But then he said REDjet, as a CARICOM business has been denied many of the benefits and rights that it is entitled to legally under these agreements.
“In a way it is good because it brings into clear focus issues which have been kept behind closed doors and anything that informs consumers and empowers consumers has to be good for countries and the region.”
Burns said that a single sky throughout the Caribbean would bring swift economic and social benefits so long overdue and necessary.
“Everyone needs to support open skies and organisations like CASSOS (that provides regional oversight for safety). Key private sector players in tourism along with tourism authorities need to come together to force political change. “.
Burns said that for his Barbados-based carrier, “Open Skies mean connecting families and friends, growing businesses of any size, growing economies, facilitating regional sport competitions and so much more.
“Open Kkies for REDjet also means the reaction of competitors will also ensure that we, though pioneers, remain committed to and focused on the driving force behind REDjet, the consumer.”
He said had the region been operating within a true Open Skies framework, REDjet’s operations would literally have come off the ground in May as had been originally scheduled.
“We could have planned our fleet growth more easily because we could have certainty as to when we wanted to enter any market. Had our region been operating within a true Open Skies framework, many more persons would have been able to travel across the region and enjoy our low fares for the just concluded holiday period.
“Nonetheless, REDjet is proud of the strides made, and the region is now acutely aware of our tenacity and drive to deliver on our promise of low fares throughout the region, making it more accessible and playing our part in the movement that will allow everyone to fly.”
Burn told the conference that low fares are designed to stimulate growth, and growth in passenger numbers stimulates economic growth.
“All member states of CARICOM have accepted this and recognize air transport is a key driver for economic growth within the region. However how can you get people to fly when taxes and charges are US$80 to US$100?”
He said another hurdle facing regional aviation is the existing regulatory and political environment.
“The region operates under out dated air services agreements that seek to restrict growth and allow for political control to operate protectionism in direct conflict with the developments in aviation throughout the globe and consumer rights,” he said.
“We have got to bring an end to the failed policies of protectionism and bureaucracy and relieve the over-burdened tax payer of a milestone that deprives countries of hospitals, schools and sustainable job creation. “
Burns said that the level of taxation must be dramatically reduced.
“Countries give foreign carriers significant subsidies to fly passengers to Caribbean destinations and then have to get it back from passengers. Once again the consumer is being hammered and why should they come here when they can visit other holiday destinations for a fraction of the cost.
“The problem is this strategy also seriously hurts intra-regional passengers and does nothing to reduce the cost of travel for consumers but rather lines the pockets of the big international carriers. Cut out the subsidies and reduce passenger taxes and see how consumers vote to spend their vacations,” he told the conference.
Burns argued that government taxes and charges were “far too high” adding “it is ridiculous to see a fare of US$19.98 ending up costing the consumer over US$100.
“The Caribbean is no different than other regions of the world. It is a very price sensitive region and every US$ makes a significant difference in passenger numbers. Countries that recognize this and dramatically reduce taxes will grow significantly. We live in a very competitive world and competition is global,” he added.