Stanford warns governments about getting into airline business

The chairman and founder of Caribbean Star, Allen Stanford, has admitted to meeting with Prime Minister Patrick Manning earlier this year for airline merger talks, but says he remains opposed to concept of a single regional airline, backed by Caribbean governments.

“This issue of one regional airline supported by government, I think, is the wrong direction. I personally feel any time you have a player in an industry being supported by government that governments are not in the business of being in business,” he said while participating in a radio show here on Friday.
Stanford maintains that competition and market forces should guide the regional airline industry.
“On the other side of that, if you regulate that industry and protect that industry then you put the player at a disadvantage,” he said.
Stanford`s comments come amid a Trinidad and Tobago-led initiative to merge BWIA with another loss-making regional airline, LIAT into a single carrier that would operate in the south.
But the project appears to be stalled, after Port of Spain indicated that it would first have to restructure BWIA to before it can even begin to talk of a merger.
Amid media reports here at the weekend, which also indicated that British Airways had made an offer to the government to take over BWIA, the Chief Executive Officer of Caribbean Star Paul Moreira said his company was not interested in BWIA.
“I can assure you that neither we, nor any of our affiliated companies, have made an offer. It`s not even part of our business plan,” he said.
BWIA suffered a net loss of US$34.4 million for fiscal year 2002 and one of the unions representing the airline`s workers is pushing for the Manning administration to acquire the airline, which it privatised in 1995.
President of the Aviation Communication and Allied Workers Union (ACAWU) Christopher Abraham said the best option was for the financially troubled entity to revert to State ownership.
“Government should capitalise on the situation and not wait much longer. I think new ownership is the best thing for BWIA. The airline needs the Government at this point in time,” he told reporters on Friday.
Abraham said the problems experienced previously when BWIA was State-owned were all self-inflicted and that should not stand in the way of the government regaining control of the airline.
He said the airline industry was just recovering from the effects of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and this was the best possible time for a BWIA sale to take place.

Related story on Caribbean Weekly:
(11/11/03) Caribbean Star shows signs of improvement