CAL told to cut non-profitable routes

Parliament’s Joint Select Committee has recommended that Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) immediately review the viability of some of its North American routes, as these have been unprofitable and resulted in an “unabated trend of declining passenger numbers and massive financial losses.”

At a press conference at Parliament yesterday, JSC chairman Independent Senator David Small said the problem demanded urgent attention, adding that CAL needed to employ strategies to save such routes to prevent future financial leakages. He, however, declined to identify the routes, saying they did not want to damage the company’s image.

He also called on CAL to immediately cease all international recruitment of foreign pilots so as to ensure local pilots were instead hired.

Small said he was particularly aghast when the airline used the slogan, “Come fly in the sunny Caribbean” as part of its recruitment drive. He said what was particularly disturbing was that there are “hundreds” of qualified local pilots unable to find jobs with CAL despite applying.

“Given the many local pilots seeking jobs, a report on how this came to be should be provided to the committee, as well as the line ministry,” Small said.

He also urged CAL to recover the “huge sum” of money being owned by Venezuela, but when asked what was the figure Small said he preferred not to make this public as it may have negative repercussions.

But he described the Caracas route as one of the more profitable ones.

Small said during three meetings the committee “struggled” to obtain pertinent information from CAL, as partial submission of information was given, adding there seemed to be a challenge with CAL regarding the way it managed its operations. The JSC recommended that CAL immediately put a freeze on any salary increases until such time as its operation was sustainably profitable.

“CAL should immediately cease the practice of annual incentive or merit payments given the current unprofitable status of the company,” the JSC said.

On the issue of retired pilots who are on contract and still being paid premium rates and given seniority over other pilots, the JSC recommended this be stopped as Small said this only served to “keep down” junior pilots.

“CAL should undertake all necessary actions over the next six months to complete the process of retirement of all position holders over 60,” Small said, noting CAL should also introduce a mentorship programme between senior and junior pilots to ensure sufficient knowledge transfer.

He said CAL has also been advised to take immediate steps regarding the recovery of any taxes due to the BIR from staff members who have utilised the cockpit “jump seat” privilege in an excessive manner.

“The first 20 ‘jump seats’ uses for personal reasons must be deducted from that employees’ annual allotment for 20 free travel passes. Therefore, for pilots only, there will be a limit of up to 20 additional personal ‘jump seats’ trips allowed per year. This should be implemented with immediate effect,” the JSC recommended.

Despite all this, Small said he would not give the airline a failing grade since he believed CAL could be saved. (Trinidad Guardian)

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