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Lack of bilateral air agreements affecting Surinam Airways expansion and profitability
Published on February 20, 2017Email To Friend    Print Version

Surinam Airways Director, Robbi Lachmising

By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor

PARAMARIBO, Suriname -- Surinam Airways (SLM) director, Robbi Lachmising, this week told Eliézer Pross of De Ware Tijd, a daily newspaper, that the national carrier has a “problem expanding its wings because Suriname has insufficient aviation agreements with countries in the region.”

He added, “The possibilities are endless, but without an aviation treaty, we cannot do anything. That's why SLM requires that the ministry of foreign affairs, and if necessary, an aviation arm within the foreign or the transportation ministry be put in place to advocate intensively for more flight deals."

It is not the first time that SLM has made such claims.

Bilateral air agreements with key countries have been stalled and some ministries are performing poorly and have accomplished very little. This is why President Desi Bouterse dismissed five cabinet members recently.

For over five years now, Suriname has been working to conclude new and more favourable air agreements with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, France, Portugal, Panama, UAE, Qatar, Turkey, among other countries. Unfortunately, according to information coming out of Paramaribo, final agreements have remained elusive.

SLM wants to be the first regular-schedule airline to link Cuba with the Guianas and is now looking to expand. The airline is also looking to put to action its agreement with Eastern Airline to cooperate on Guyana-New York route, since Eastern has the type of aircraft to ply the route.

Thus, SLM is urging the government to conclude air agreements with Guyana, Cuba, Panama, and other countries especially in the region.

A bilateral agreement with Turkey has been delayed because of dysfunction in Paramaribo. The last visit by a Surinamese delegation to Turkey, some years ago, ended in a fiasco because the document to conclude the agreement wasn’t ready or was “left “in Paramaribo.

The national carrier is of the opinion that the transportation and foreign ministry of Suriname has never been serious about raising the profile of SLM. But on the other hand, SLM has always colluded with the government to close the airspace of Suriname to competition. The airline has served the interest and needs of governments in power since 1975. After all, the company is owned by the government, and over decade-old corruption and political interference has plagued SLM.

Two reports by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) concluded that there are “barriers affecting the tourism industry of Suriname”, such as “low government prioritization of travel and tourism, aviation infrastructure, political instability, visa requirements, aviation safety and security, and low air service (few carriers).”

However, safety and security have improved, and Suriname’s Johan Pengel Airport (JAP) is now Category 1 according to the US Department of Transportation rubric.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), Suriname’s government policy does not place a high priority on travel and tourism (3.6 on a scale of 7, ranked 114 out of 140 countries). This lack of prioritization by the government on travel and tourism is also reflected in the small share of the government budget, only 1.7%, devoted to the sector.

This underinvestment, especially when compared to established tourism markets such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which each spend 5.6% and 5.5% of their national budgets, respectively, could make the development of future air service a challenge.
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