Government looking towards a restructured CAL in the post COVID era
PORT OF SPAIN – The Trinidad & Tobago government provided U.S. $100 million in subsidises to the state-owned Caribbean Airline (CAL) last year, in addition to taking “responsibility for a number of loans”, Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert said.
Imbert told a news conference the government is also hoping that the airline, which earlier this week announced the resumption of its direct flights between Guyana and Miami, will during the post coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic era, return in a much more “efficient shape and form”.
“The government subsidised CAL to the tune of U.S. $100 million, TT $700 million last year and that is in addition to the government taking responsibility for a number of loans that CAL has on its books that it simply cannot pay,” he said.
“The government is already committed to significant debt service on behalf of CAL, which is in addition to the TT $700 million bail out, we gave them in 2020.
“We can’t bail them out to the tune of TT $700 million in 2021 unless the airline gets itself ready and makes itself as efficient as possible for resumption of flights.”
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley said the country’s borders, closed since March last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will most likely re-open within the next four to six week, depending on the outcome of discussions involving a team, including the ministers of health and national security and CAL representatives.
Rowley said then the re-opening of the Piarco International Airport will allow for CAL to begin scheduled flights and Imbert said he expects those flights to resume on a phased basis.
“We don’t know what is going on in the world, some airlines are flying it is true, but I would expect CAL to start small and then get bigger and bigger in terms of flying as soon as the public health regulations are sorted out,” he said, adding “…but as soon as CAL gets the signal by which flights can resume then I expect CAL to resume.
“But I expect them to resume in the most efficient shape and form that is available based on expert advice. I know they have been getting except advice from aviation consultants in terms of what the airline should look like, how many planes they should have, what routes it should fly and that sort of thing.
“I know they have spent their time over the last six months doing this, very careful, very deliberate work in terms of expert advice and I assume as soon as the public health matters are resolved and whatever system is put in place to allow the resumption of flights that CAL will make a presentation to the wider public…and let everybody know what the restructured CAL will look like,” Imbert said.
The finance minister said the government cannot spend another U.S. $100 million of taxpayers’ money on CAL this year unless “we can see light at the end of the tunnel, and we can see them returning to profitability and so on”.