delays will not do
airbridge between Trinidad and Tobago provides a vital air
transport link between the two-island nation state and,
in some cases, there is little choice but to use an aircraft
to travel between the two islands.
Tourism might not be classed as essential to the economy
of Trinidad but it is one of the main employers and revenue
earners in the Tobago economy.
There are thousands of people living in Trinidad who wish
to spend a few days in the sister isle and there are foreigners
whose flight connections mean that they land in Trinidad
and then use the airbridge to get to Tobago.
Those who wish to support the Tobago tourism product should
not be punished for it by spending two or three hours waiting
in an airport.
The frustration that results from such a long waiting period
is detrimental to Tobagos tourism and therefore the
For much of this year, Tobago Express has been experiencing
problems trying to keep all of its fleet in the air. The
airline has been operating recently with two of its five
aircraft because of repairs and routine maintenance.
The fleet problem has meant that, over the past week, the
delays which plagued airbridge passengers earlier in the
year have returned, with some of the delays lasting for
Clearly, delays of this number or frequency are not completely
acceptable to the travelling public for whatever reason
The problems are also occurring in the lead-up to the Tobago
Jazz Festival, a grand affair which will showcase local
and international stars. This is not the time for Tobago
Express to be experiencing such severe problems.
GM George Bell has said the airline will not put aircraft
into service once there is any possibility of danger. This
is commendable as it is crucial that airlines pay great
attention to the safety of their passengers. Safety, while
being of utmost importance, is not the only factor.
Reliability of service is also key.
The problem is not just one of juggling aircraft. The Government
needs to study whether the Tobago Express or airbridge model,
as it now exists, makes sense.
Mr Bell and Tobago Express director Allan Clovis have said
that Governments subsidy of the airbridge does more
harm than good. Government subsidises $100, or about 33
per cent of the ticket price but three or four months pass
before that money is passed on to the airline. As Mr Clovis
said, it is difficult to run a company with such severe
That has implications for expenditure on recurrent items
like repairs as well as capital expenditure like engine
or aircraft replacement.
Government also has to consider whether the cost of a Tobago
ticket is realistic. Maybe it is time to look at an increase
in the price that would allow the company to operate properly
and be adequately capitalised.
A higher price on the airbridge will surely be resisted
by some but will probably by brought about by necessity.
The public should also consider that now, unlike a few years
ago, there are options. A trip on the Lynx is cheaper and
can take just two hours. That service has also proven to
be quite reliable.
If increasing the airfare to Tobago is deemed to be politically
unacceptable, maybe Government should consider providing
subsidies to other operators on the airbridge like Caribbean
Star and LIAT.
That way, someone from Trinidad who wants to holiday in
Tobago will be assured that there are more seats available.