Is there something wrong with our airport? You tell me. Our airport was given to us by The EU and UK, and is easily one of the most important aspects of our sustainable development. The landing strip is approximately 600 metres long
But a bad workman blames his tools. When we were given the Airport, my understanding is that we were given specific instructions for its use and we are now suffering a measure of economic loss for not having continued to follow these instructions. I would imagine that the EU/UK governments arrived at these instructions after considerable research.
1. Use twin otter aircraft (best for landing strip)
2. Use Winair (largest fleet of twin otters in the region with years of experience flying them into short landing strips, and their maintenance and fleet only 40 flying minutes away.)
3.Have a Public Service Obligation agreement with Winair. (for the protection of the traveling public.)
It would appear that the UK civil servant who researched our air transportation needs at that time did a thorough job. We in Montserrat were very skeptical, emotional, and totally uninformed. We wanted LIAT.
Winair services began in July 2005. For three years, in spite of cancellations, delayed flights, delayed baggage and bitter complaints - Winair ,using their own and a charter company's twin otters - managed an incident free air service to Montserrat. But we were still dissatisfied, we wanted the very best possible of everything including service. Consequently, Winair was treated with little respect by the then government at the time, and also by the Montserrat Tourist Board. Both of whom appear to have had little knowledge of the airline industry.
The cry for “our own airline” was initiated in one group, and like 'crucify him' the lower echelons of the society took it up. There were only a few knowledgeable dissenting voices.
It was amazing that we, at the time a virtual welfare state of Britain, would presume to feel entitled to our own airline, regardless of our population and earning power. It would be revealing to learn where this refrain was first started.
Enroute to this position and as soon as we were able to dispense with Winair's services, in June 2008 we went into a disastrous arrangement with LIAT/Carib Aviation. I will mention here that a member of my staff bet me that it would last no longer than 6 months.
Montserrat Reporter 20 June 2008, Headline stated; “New airlink service between Antigua and Montserrat”
“Liat/Carib two year Air service agreement”.
On July 11th, 2008 LIAT 1974 Ltd temporarily suspended its commercial arrangements with Carib Aviation.” (Who could still feel that LIAT should be involved in our air access?). My understanding is that when approached for help “they were dismissive”. (LIAT)
Where does the Montserrat Government store its historical data? We have already been subjected to a disastrous arrangement with LIAT when we lost to them our very own twin otter in the days of Montserrat Aviation Services Ltd. Government must have these records!
Friday July 25th 2008. Headlines read: “Montserrat air link service new contract falls short.”(Service started 01 July 2008.)
Friday 12 September 2008 Headlines read: “Air link woes and uncertainty rule as Carib Aviation folds its wings.”
Below this headline was a photograph of a Winair twin otter and headline “Montserrat goes full circle with Winair”. (this is fact, a truth that is stranger than fiction. We all lived through it).
One continues to wonder which government technicians advised on this arrangement. Montserrat has not yet recovered from the folly of this most unwise decision from 2008. Had we been adult in our outlook and patient with Winair, Montserrat would have enjoyed years of the airline exposure and the easy accessibility to Montserrat which Winair would have brought, and can still bring to us.
The then Government ( of 2008) was in an unenviable position. Winair had been relieved of their duties in favour of the LIAT/Carib fiasco after having provided the service for three years WITHOUT SUBSIDY.
It is interesting to note that at the end of Winair's contract in June 2008, Winair was the only airline who responded to the tender document . (Some in high places were saying “we have options”, which indicates the total lack of correct information available, then and now, which would assist our governments in making informed decisions.)
The Montserrat Reporter of 12th September 2008 quotes a Government minister as stating; “we will be very careful this time round to make sure whoever is chosen to provide the service into Montserrat will have interline agreements with other established carriers”. (To date we are still far away from this, now 5 years later and this shortcoming is proving detrimental to our economy).
The statement was very interesting, as Winair, even at that time in 2008, was in possession of these requirements. Again no government technician was able to provide the information which would have assisted our government in making informed decisions. Winair agreed to return but only WITH SUBSIDY and hence the commencement of subsidy on the route.
Winair's service came to an end in January 2011. They had their own domestic challenges and were faced with a pending situation in Montserrat where they would, even with subsidy, have been obliged to compete with a subsidized ferry and another air carrier with whom they shared the route for a short period; and they had no written agreement with the Montserrat Government at that time. They had returned to take us out of a dilemma and almost panic in certain circles as they had virtually closed their inventory of airline seats into Montserrat.
Montserrat Reporter Headline of 26th November 2010 read: “Winair dumps Montserrat end of December”.
Both airlines presently providing a service to Montserrat are doing the best they can, but THIS IS NOT ENOUGH. We all know this. They cannot help our development. They were obviously the only option for the very short term. Did our access coordinators see this as a long term or very short term solution?)