is the third in a series of first person accounts on the dying national
airline BWIA, which closes its doors on December 31.
is the story from a former airline manager.
under-financing and government interference have dogged BWIA since it
began as an instrument of the British Government in 1941.
have been allegations of parasitic relationships, commercial rip-offs,
overcharging, ticketing and travel agent scams to the tune of five to
seven million dollars a year.
1962, government has failed to get regional support for BWIA (despite its
financially disastrous decisions to send flights to St Kitts, and other
popular Caribbean destinations) because of its ‘bull in a china shop’
approach to Caricom.
privatisation in 1995 was undercapitalised. Only ten to 15 million of
actual cash investment came from the lead Acker Group and its
Government ended up with 49 per cent of the airline, including 15.5 per
cent employee shares.
began piling up
Conrad Aleong had hedged fuel, clamped down on millions of dollars of
ticketing and travel scams, but profits morphed into losses.
became essential; management became confrontational with unions. Employees
responded with guerrilla warfare.
share prices dropped drastically (now down from $7 to 30 cents). By the
time Aleong departed in 2003, planes had been impounded.
were owed an estimated $100 million. BWIA limped along. Management was
forced to ask employees for concessions.
2005, Chairman Arthur Lok Jack’s team was given a mandate by the
Government with the following options:
Shut down BWIA and start the new airline;
Shut down BWIA and rely on market to provide uplift.
A couldn’t work, since the unions and management couldn’t agree on the
C, although attractive under pure economics, had other implications. It
was unacceptable to the Government.
the Lok Jack committee went with B—the most expensive and hardest
corruption, overstaffing, low wages, low employee productivity, low morale
and government interference aside, our collapse is ultimately also due to
economic imperatives that are dictated by the population.
generates mainly diaspora and business travel. The only reason we have
daily London flights is because we piggyback via Barbados, Antigua and St
generates the lion’s share of long haul traffic with its tourist
Trinis with our big bags object to taking small planes to go to Barbados
to get to Miami or London in an ungodly hour, which is the only way the
airline can survive.
traffic to and from NY wants to arrive late in JFK and leave early, so
they can be transported by their friends/family without taking time off
you change the timing, the traffic drops. South West Airlines doesn’t go
anywhere unless it has at least six flights a day, which one team can
on the other hand, has four flights between seven and ten in the morning,
and four more between seven and ten in the night. Nothing in between.
and troughs like that cost you in overtime, underproduction, and
inefficient use of resources.
in the airline industry now facing lay-offs and reapplying to CAL are
dying for a leader to come out there, be fearless, truthful and capable.
next week: Staff and management of BWIA respond to the requiem series.