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Study: Politics hinder air transportation

SHAWN CUMBERBATCH, [email protected]

Study: Politics hinder air transportation

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TWO TOURISM RESEARCHERS in Barbados think it would be worthwhile to have “genuine attempts at air transport liberalisation in CARICOM”.

In a new study published in the academic Journal of Air Transport Management, University of the West Indies tourism lecturer Cristina Jonsson and Kareem Yarde of Tourism Analytical Services said “the evidence shows that improvements to the regulatory aviation environment in CARICOM would aid improvements in intra-regional tourism”.

However, they also acknowledged that “in reality, what the results of this study suggest is that the political interference and protectionism used to maintain control over both the aviation bureaucracy and the carriers are the things that are undermining efficiency in the regional air transport environment”.

The study examined the implications for CARICOM member states in the search for a liberally controlled air transport market in the context of regional tourism to Barbados.

“In summary, genuine attempts at air transport liberalisation in CARICOM should address and attempt to fully resolve these issues critically and impartially, given the existing inertia which emerged from it and its potential to protract that inertia into the future of the industry,” Jonsson and Yarde concluded.

“This research suggests that the first solution to any successful attempt at liberalism in CARICOM has to be a decision to collectively abandon any perception of air transport as being an undisputed social service in the region.

“Instead social needs should be addressed on a case by case basis through subsidisation, or capacity constraints as a means of increasing load factors.”

They added: “For so long as national or regional carriers are being forced to adopt all-encompassing social policies in their management, those carriers and their political affiliates will have to guard profitable routes to cover both their cost structures and losses on the unsubsidised or poorly subsidised social routes.”

The study involved interviewing various stakeholders, and the researchers said the results of the overall report “acknowledge the presence of an extremely interdependent regional air transport system with member states relying on each other to service and finance each other’s intra-regional carrier requirements”.

This, they said, suggested “the occurrences discussed herein are a part and parcel of a system with the potential to impact any carrier in any member state”.

“The tourism stakeholders in Barbados appreciate the importance of the CARICOM source market and propose that it could be made more viable given a more conducive aviation environment,” the report said.

“The most substantial drawback of CARICOM liberalisation would perhaps be the emergence of an empty core. However, given the economic dependence of the member states of this region upon each other, the probability of this occurring in a relatively stable CARICOM socio-economic environment seems questionable.”

Jonsson and Yarde also observed that in terms of political interference and protectionism in regional aviation, “the insular objectives of the various governments, creates a lack of cohesion within the collective intra-regional air transport environment in CARICOM”.

“The governments of the region benefit from the social services the government owned carriers provide, and the carriers in turn rely on the profitable routes to help maintain their already challenged cash flow and profitability ratios,” they found.

And while their research considered CARICOM air transport from a Barbadian perspective, the duo said the issues outlined in the study “should not be viewed as being solely representative of air transport practices in Barbados”.

“Barbados does not have a national carrier and with the exception of regional carrier LIAT, of which Barbados is currently a shareholder, Barbados does not have a vibrant domicile commercial carrier industry.

However, this lack of a national carrier is a characteristic of most of the CARICOM nations,” they said. (SC)