A local aviation expert is recommending that low cost air carrier REDjet complete an exhaustive certification process, conducted by the Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation Authority (TTCAA), before it is allowed to operate in this country. Captain Ian Brunton, former chief executive officer of Caribbean Airlines (CAL), who has approximately 49 years of experience in the aviation industry and was the first chairman of the TTCAA, said this was necessary, since the airline was a brand new start-up with no operating history and it was flying ageing aircraft. He explained in a letter to the T&T Guardian: "This is aimed at ensuring that the applicant operator has a suitable organisation, has adequate operational management, human and material resources, exhaustive procedures, handbooks and manuals to govern every aspect of its operations and aircraft maintenance." Brunton said it was "hugely significant" that the airline was using ageing aircraft -MD-80s which CAL's predecessor, BWIA, gave up more than a decade ago. He said such aircraft required specialised care to keep them airworthy.
"As both Aloha Airlines found out in 1988 (fuselage failure of an ageing aircraft caused a flight attendant to be sucked out of the aircraft in flight) and more recently when Southwest suffered a similar incident, these ageing jet aircraft are literally flying into 'unchartered territory,'" Brunton said. "At this end of the aircraft life spectrum, even the aircraft manufacturers are learning as they go along." He said the TTCAA could not just accept the grant of a Barbados Air Operator's Certificate (AOC) as evidence that the new airline was sufficiently compliant with international aviation safety operating standards to fly into this country. In addition, he said, it was also important to examine the viability and sustainability of the "unusually low airfares" being offered by REDjet.
Such an inquiry should take into account "the high cost of maintenance and operation of the 'gas guzzling' ageing MD-82 aircraft, in a scenario of extremely high fuel and maintenance costs," he added.
"The commercial regulator has an obligation to ensure the protection of the travelling public from the vicissitudes and disruption that can be caused by reckless and unstable carriers. "This burden of proof should be on the applicant to show how it could viably exist in this very low-fare environment." According to Brunton, the way to bring down regional airfares while protecting the quality of air service was by the creation of a standing forum between governments and aviation players to fix fares at a fair level. "Some taxes and local airport charges can be reduced in this way and undoubtedly the airlines can reciprocate by bringing fares close to cost of production," he said.
Brunton also expressed the view that the certification process for a new air operator should ensure the entity was sound enough to ensure the continuing airworthiness of its aircraft and operations.
He pointed out that aviation was a very capital-intensive industry and there was need for extensive cash flow to sustain safe operations. Such rigorous examination of REDjet's finances and business plan, Brunton noted, could not be accomplished in under nine months, particularly as the TTCAA already had a heavy workload and was stretched close to its limits. He said, however, that the high safety record of airlines in the region was not achieved by chance. "We all welcome competition as a means to stimulate the industry and bring down fares," Brunton said. "However, this expedient must not be achieved by ignoring or bypassing the tried and tested checks and balances that have contributed to this region's airlines being some of the safest in the world."