Saint Lucia
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Air Traffic – A Major Concern for Regional Travel

Foreign Affairs Minister Alva Baptiste
Foreign Affairs Minister Alva Baptiste

REGIONAL leaders are intent on making some headway with the worrisome issue of air transpiration that has been of major concern over the years.

At a media briefing, this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Alva Baptiste spoke on the air traffic issue relating to its importance as an economic driver for the provision of   trade, leisure and other purposes.

He noted that the aviation issue is a complex matter, which is totally different to marketing commodities and product services.

“If you have an airplane with 24 seats from Saint Lucia to Barbados, you sell 12 seats and once you close the door and you fly from the GFL Charles airport to Barbados …the 12 empty seats, you can’t sell it tomorrow,” Baptiste explained to reporters.

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He said the operations will next entail another exercise and it will be a “brand new flight …and they call that Perishable Inventories”.

“So, it’s always a challenge trying to match supply and demand in that industry,” said the Foreign Affairs Minister. “The demand for that product has grown tremendously and any other industry that was faced with such demand could make huge profits, but not the airline industry.”

Baptiste explained that an airline makes an average profit of at least US $17 per passenger. “So, it’s an industry that whilst demand has grown significantly for the product it is not a profitable industry,” he said.

As a result, said the minister, there are variable options for airline operations, such as, low cost carriers.

“So, what the low cost carriers attempt to do is to go to secondary airports …and that’s why airports are moving into more commercial activities and they do not rely on aeronautical revenues to really operate the airport and to sustain it,” he added.

Referring to the issue of regional travel, Baptiste reiterated that, “Nowhere in the world are islands so close to each other…aeroplanes fly and after a certain amount of cycles they got into maintenance.”

He explained that a cycle involves coordinated landing and take-off procedures. But geographically, the closeness of the Caribbean islands are not favourable to marketing or maximizing profits as opposed to, for instance, air travel through the Pacific Islands.

Baptiste quipped: “People say that before when we were not too much into tourism, we had more regional flights. But how do we have more tourists coming in and we have less flights. What has happened, is there a change in the pattern of air traffic into the region?”

He said there are more direct flights into the islands as compared to what occurred previously, with   “direct flights from the United States to Dominica, direct flights to St. Vincent …and direct flights to all the others that relied on us to feed them with regional traffic. So that in itself reduced the demand , but there is always a demand for our people to travel; for trade related purposes , and for visas in Barbados…but will the GFL Charles / Barbados route sustain the entire operations ?”

Baptiste notes this is a major issue that “they are grappling with, a model that is sustainable.”

The minister adds that presently, it would be difficult to emerge with a “sustainable model…without some injection of capital to support it”.

He said in the same manner that education and health are regarded as priority issues to the state, likewise, within the air travel sector “we should try to have a model that will be run efficiently” with funding support from government.

“Because the net benefit to the economy would be greater than what we put into it…Caribbean leaders right now are actively pursuing that,” noted Baptiste.

He said while the air transportation issue continues to pose a “headache” for the wider region, however, respective individuals from the Eastern Caribbean states have presented various models, “so when the time comes you will probably hear more about that.”