PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Trinidad and Tobago government provided US$100 million in subsidies to the state-owned Caribbean Airline (CAL) last year in addition to taking “responsibility for several loans,” Finance Minister Colm Imbert has said.
Imbert told a news conference that the government is also hoping that the airline, which earlier this week announced its direct flights between Guyana and Miami, would return in the post coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic era a much more “efficient shape and form.”
“The government subsidizes Caribbean Airlines to the tune of US$100 million, 700 million Trinidad and Tobago dollars last year, and that is in addition to the government taking responsibility for several loans that Caribbean Airlines has on its books that it simply cannot pay.
‘So the government is already committed to significant debt service on behalf of Caribbean Airlines, which is in addition to the TT$700 million bails 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 that the country’s borders, closed since March last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, would 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 that the re-opening of the Piarco International Airport would allow Caribbean Airlines 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 Caribbean Airlines 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 Caribbean Airlines gets the signal by which flights can resume then I expect Caribbean Airlines to continue.
“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 advice from aviation consultants regarding 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, meticulous, 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 Caribbean Airlines will make a presentation to the wider public…and let everybody know what the restructured Caribbean Airlines will look like,” Imbert said.
The Finance Minister said the government couldn’t spend another US$100 million of taxpayers’ money on CAL in 2021 unless “we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and we can see them returning to profitability and so on.”
Imbert said that the airline did “very, very well” a few years ago, registering an operating profit over TT$100 million in one year, “and COVID just came and destroyed all of that.
‘I am expecting CAL to show a plan for a return to minimum break-even position and then towards profitability, and it will be a restructured airline, but I will leave that up to Caribbean Airlines to talk about, and I would not expect them to say a word until the public health matters are resolved.”
Imbert said that how passengers will be allowed to enter Trinidad and Tobago in the future is something the airline should be awaiting, adding, “as soon as we get that signal, we expect Caribbean Airlines to talk about its future.
“But I wouldn’t want to talk out of turn at this point,” he added.