CAL in TT$60m debt to Airports Authority

-defunct Guyana Airways also owes

(Trinidad Express) Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL) owes some TT$60 million to the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (AATT), Transport Minister Devant Maharaj has confirmed.

Maharaj said out of TT$154 million owed to the AATT by various concessionaires, TT$60 million was owed by CAL.

He said this debt accrued under the last administration.

“I have charged this board with trying to recover all the receivables that are owed to them”, he said. The Minister also confirmed that now suspended regional carrier REDjet is one of the other airlines which also owe the AATT money.

CAL currently rents property from AATT.

Maharaj said there was some contention between the AATT and CAL over what was owed, the AATT had charged the former BWIA, 50 cents per square feet, but had raised this price under the new company, CAL to TT$3.50 per square feet.

He said both parties were in discussions with a view to resolving the price. It is understood that the price would be around TT$2 a square foot.

He said CAL’s debt to the AATT was only drawn to his attention with the advent of this new board which was appointed on January 5. He said he was told by one of the AATT managers the previous (AATT) board were instructed to treat CAL with “kid gloves”.

A source who served on the previous board said the AATT was charging everyone who rented property the same rates.

These rates went up over time, but CAL wanted to hold the rates constant to what was paid by BWIA many years ago, the source said. The source added that CAL and AATT agreed to engage an independent arbitrator, Afra Raymond, to determine the valuation of the property and the rent that should be paid on it.

Sources said the AATT had been making efforts in the past to get the airline, to pay a more realistic rate and had even hired a bailiff but was stopped by the then PNM Government which argued that one State agency could not take such action against another.

The source said this is the same position which this Government has taken and cited the fact that CAL currently owes National Petroleum (NP) some TT$29 million for jet fuel.

The source cited NP’s Chairman Neil Gosine’s statement that NP could not afford to not provide fuel to the national provider of air transport.

CAL had announced that for the last financial year it made TT$200 million in profit. However, CAL has not paid the US$5 million which it pledged to the Children’s Life Fund.

A number of airlines owe money to the AATT and some have ceased operations.

They include Guyana Airways, Helen Air, Air Caribbean and ALM Antillean Airlines.

Others such as Universal Airlines, Zoom Airlines and Excel Airways have filed for bankruptcy.

Some like Air Canada have ceased operations locally filed for Chapter 11 during the period relevant to the debt.