Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has said Castries should do is work properly. (File photo)

ST. VINCENT: – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves is calling on aviation authorities in St. Lucia to do their work properly regarding the operation of an airline between the two countries.

Further, he is advising the owners of CARICOM Airways not to listen to Allen Chastanet, the Aviation Minister in Castries, as Kingstown denies the airline permission to fly to St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

“Now, I am hopeful that those who are advising the CARICOM Airways that they do what is required. And, please, don’t take any advice from Mr Chastanet. Because no kind of threat, no kind of public relations tactics will pressure this government from doing what is required to be done,” Gonsalves said on Monday, Nov. 30.

Gonsalves’ statement is part of an ongoing impasse between SVG and St. Lucia over the operations of CARICOM Airways.

Chastanet has said that CARICOM Airways is a St. Lucia registered company which has been given permission to fly to St. Lucia and Dominica and had applied to the authorities in SVG since April.

But Gonsalves said last week that the airline has not been granted permission to land in SVG because it is “in breach of the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority operating procedure” and as such “is operating illegally”.

Chastanet told Kingstown last week to resolve the standoff within a week or expect that Vincentian airlines SVG Air and Mustique Airways will no longer be granted rights to fly to St. Lucia.

Kingstown did not approve commercial flights to and from SVG by CARICOM Airways because the airline’s islander aircrafts had a one-member crew, Gonsalves said week.

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Gonsalves, who is the Minister of Civil Aviation, also said the airline did not have sufficient insurance, and had not obtained the requisite license from the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA).

But Chastanet said the airline was operating under the Airline Operation Convention (AOC) from Suriname, which under the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Convention, allows member countries to accept each other’s AOC.

“Now, I want to make it absolutely plain that an agreement cannot and does not supersede the legislation which was passed in each of the countries of the OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) which established ECCAA,” Gonsalves told reporters on Monday.

He said the Caribbean Aviation Safety and Security Oversight System (CASSOS) agreement can “in no way supersede an act of Parliament by merely having that company registered in St. Lucia or in any other state in the OECS”.

The registration of a company cannot be equated with the establishment of an AOC or complying with the other aviation requirements of ECCAA, Gonsalves said.

He further said that while the CASSOS agreement says that CARICOM states consider registering each other’s airlines, the airline must meet the legal requirements of the specific jurisdiction.

“I do not understand why the government of St. Lucia is permitting a minister to be making these   statements without reference to what is the legal position and to address the matter through all the appropriate channels.

“If he has any challenges, address then through the appropriate authorities. ECCAA has written to him and outlined this. And the director of our airports, who is the secretary of the Air Transport and Licensing Board of St. Vincent and the Grenadines she has made it plain to all those who have been involved in this matter,” Gonsalves said.

The context

Gonsalves detailed to the media the developments leading up to the current impasse.

Allen Chastanet is the Aviation Minister in Castries.

He said that the Director of Airports in Kingstown sent to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CARICOM Airways in July 2009 the documents required for the applications to conduct commercial flights to SVG.

CARICOM Airways, he said, did not respond until this year when Vincy Aviation Service, its agent in Kingstown, inquired about the status of the application.

Gonsalves said the airline was reminded that it did not file the requisite documents, which was later done “after some delay”.

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Kingstown received an application on Aug. 19, 2010 for CARICOM Airways flights to SVG using a single-engine aircraft, registration PZTYL.

The documents were sent to the ECCAA, which, in its response of Sept. 24, raised concerns about the inadequacy of the crew, Gonsalves said.

In their meetings, the Director of Airports raised with the CEO of CARICOM Airways concerns about “the single aircraft operation and the company’s status as a foreign operator — based on local regulations,” Gonsalves said.

The CEO then informed the Director of Airports that CARICOM Airways intends to form a company in St. Lucia in order to gain access to SVG and that the company also intended to increase its fleet.

“He was told that whatever he wants to do can only be done when the requirements are met,” Gonsalves aid.

He said that the Director of Airports, after reviewing the documents, raised with the Ministry of Civil Aviation concerns about the low insurance liability limit.

“…she considered that it was inappropriate to write to the company until after the matter was discussed at the Air Transport Licensing Board,” Gonsalves said.

In Nov., the matter was raised again by CEO of CARICOM Airways, who was informed that the Air Transport Licensing Board (ATLB) had not met as yet.

Gonsalves said that the Director of Airports made every effort to facilitate CARICOM Airways, adding that authorities in Kingstown “have been very amicable and not in any way hostile”.

He, however, said that his administration informed the airline that it needs to get an air operations permit from ECCAA if it is to operate as a St. Lucian company.

“We have to be concerned about the safety standard. This is what this is about,” Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves said that the airline has to have a maintenance area certified by the ECCAA as “appropriate and adequate for a commercial airline”.

Additionally, the ECCAA “will then also examine the certification, the qualification of the persons who are going to do maintenance. I mean, it is an elementary point,” Gonsalves said.

“All the airlines have to do it. I don’t understand why an exception should be made in the case of this CARICOM Airways — why the minister [in] St. Lucia is seeking to do this and I am calling on them again to do their work properly,” Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves further said that last Friday, Nov. 26, the Director of Airport in Kingstown, who is also the secretary of ATLB, wrote to Vincy Aviation Services informing them that while the CARICOM Airways has met the two-member crew requirement, there were still outstanding issues.

“…the passenger liability of US$25,000 as listed on the insurance document is considered inadequate for a scheduled commercial service. You are kindly asked if and when this matter can be rectified so that the liability can be more in keeping with international scheduled operation,” Gonsalves read from the communiqué.

He said that his administration had passed laws increasing to minimum and maximum car insurance at EC$50,000 and EC$1 million.

“…and you want a plane to be going up in the air with a passenger liability of US$25,000?” Gonsalves said.

He further said that SVG Air has liability insurance of US$100,000 and that allowing another airline to have US$25,000 would give that airline an advantage, allowing it “to compete unfairly”.

“…we are asking that you increase the insurance, and thirdly, that you get the Air Operating Certificate from the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority. What is so difficult about these things?” Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves said that he would like to see more competition in the airline industry but that passengers travelling to SVG must do so with confidence that the airlines are adhering to the laws of the country.

He further said “some people in St. Lucia related to this company are in touch with other people” in SVG.

“Well, unfortunately, other people not running this country — unfortunately for them but fortunately for the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“When they have complied with these things, the issue of the reciprocal arrangements would follow,” he said, adding that most St. Lucians agree with his stance.

He further said that some persons were commenting that they would like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) out of the United States to take oversight of aviation in St. Lucia

“…as always, they believe that something when they go into it is foreign is better than our own oversight,” Gonsalves said.

He added that the FAA expressed confidence in the work of the ECCAA when in December 2005 it granted Category 1 status to the OECS region.

Regarding retracting landing rights of Vincentian airlines flying to St. Lucia, Gonsalves said, “They can’t be so serious about regional integration.

“Regional integration does not mean doing things harum scarum. It means doing things properly in an integrated sense and when they have complied with those thing, we will address the question of the reciprocal arrangements,” Gonsalves said.

“You can’t put the cart before the horse and I am hoping that this would be appreciated by CARICOM Airways even though Mr Chastanet may have some difficulty,” he added.

He said that contrary to Internet comments, CARICOM Airways having been permitted to fly to Dominica and Grenada does not mean “somebody is asleep at the wheel in St. Vincent”.

“On the contrary, we are not asleep at the wheel at all.  We are making sure that everything is done properly and that has been the position of this government when it addresses any issues. So I am hopeful that we do not have to visit this question again,” Gonsalves said.

“I am trying to find out — I don’t understand what is the bee in bonnet of the minister in St. Lucia. I am at a lost. Maybe he has his own way in St. Lucia. I don’t know but you don’t have your own way with the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. At least, not one headed by Ralph Gonsalves,” he added.