Letter: That’s not Virgin-like

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Dear Sir:

Something is not right about the account presented by Dominic Fedee on the Virgin Atlantic matter. That’s just not what you expect of Virgin Atlantic, and the explanation given does not seem like the whole story.

Firstly, Fedee said demand for Saint Lucia is strong in the UK market, only second to Barbados. In fact, arrivals are up 18 percent up to May 2019 when compared to 2018. 

So why then did Virgin Atlantic seek a subsidy? 

Subsidies are usually sought when demand is low or when operational expenses are rising (usually caused by high fuel prices) and airlines [ naturally] wish to offset their expenses. We have strong demand for Saint Lucia and fuel prices have been steady. So, what’s going on?

Secondly, the request as presented by Fedee seems abnormally high. I say abnormally high because we have paid subsidies before and it has never been that high. So why now? If this is true, again, what’s going on?

Thirdly, Allen Chastanet as minister of tourism was a champion of paying subsidies. 

Here is the list of subsidies reportedly payed over five years: 

  • American – $11,371,597.00 – British Airways – $5,325,336.00 – Condor – $2,334,243.00 – Excel Freedom Flight – $ 800,118.00 – Jet Blue – $5,180,741.00 –
  • Sun Tours – $ 462,643.00 – Virgin Holidays – $8,648,520.00 – WestJet – $4,328,221.00

———————-

  • Total – $38,455,420.00

You will recall that Chastanet’s ministry got $50 million a year which is EC$250 million over five years.

So, what has changed now?

My research tells me that Virgin Atlantic asked the following:

1) Antigua and Barbuda US$1.5 million

2) Saint Lucia US$2.5 million

3) Grenada US$1.5 million

4) Barbados US $2.5 million

5) Trinidad for an undisclosed sum, but negotiations are ongoing.

Our biggest challenges in these situations are two-fold. First, we are isolated on the regional stage because of the conduct and posture of our government; and second, we send, literally and figuratively, a boy [Fedee] to do a man’s job. 

In these circumstances, arrogance is the enemy of common sense. It leads one to wonder, who is advising on negotiations. 

The Virgin Atlantic situation had to be approached at a regional level. Virgin Atlantic would have to deal with us as a collective grouping of nations or not at all. If they pull out, then it has to be with the fear that they would have to pull out of every island. If for some reason, it is in our best national interests not to pay when others want to pay, then I can understand the government’s position. But like the European Union (EU) blacklisting, Saint Lucia believes it must be a lone ranger as the government alone knows what is best.

So, then, the issue is: What is in our best national interest? Do we need Virgin Atlantic more than Virgin Atlantic need us? 

Word is that with the present state of the aviation industry, planes are not readily available and Virgin Atlantic will have a reduced fleet come next year. So, there is competition to assign planes to the most profitable routes. 

Virgin Atlantic can afford to move its planes at no loss. But can we afford to lose Virgin Atlantic at no loss? Or if there is a loss and that is seven percent of all our arrivals, can we sustain it? If we pay Virgin Atlantic, are we opening the flood gates for others? If others still ask for subsidies, do we follow the precedence set with Virgin Atlantic and allow them to pull out? Where does it end?

The answer to these questions lies in whether we can muster a collective and regional bulwark to face these demands. As it stands, we have been ‘not so smart’ in our regional diplomacy and conduct. That is our fundamental weakness.

Sorry Fedee, but we need full disclosure. Something does not seem right.

Ernest Hilaire

Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) Parliamentary Representative for Castries South

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