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Pitcher opposed to open skies

Local businessman Robert Pitcher has questioned the reasoning behind a call by the secretary general of the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Hugh Riley for an open skies policy in the region.

Speaking at an airline route development forum in Durban, South Africa recently Riley argued that open skies would allow regional carriers to take unlimited flights to all Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states and would encourage the growth of competition among carriers.

The secretary general also called on the region to finalize and implement the amended Multilateral Air Services Agreement; facilitate unlimited third, fourth, and fifth freedom of traffic rights for scheduled passenger services from and between international airports and sub-regions within CARICOM and; establish a CARICOM Single Domestic Air Space to help generate additional international traveller demand which, in turn, will encourage airlines to establish routes to the region.

But Pitcher has contended that such a policy would be counter-productive and could result in unnecessary competition for regional airline, LIAT.

“I really do not think that we need open skies. When that call was made I did not know if they understood that four Caribbean islands were underwriting the cost of LIAT for a number of years. It is said that when you have competition you drive prices down and you deliver a better service. LIAT does not need competition, but a management team that understands that Caribbean people want to travel from one island to another at an affordable cost,” he told Barbados TODAY in an interview at his office at Rendezvous Gardens, Christ Church this morning.

The Fun “N” Sun Publishing director is a perennial critic of LIAT’s management and has repeatedly called for the airline’s heads to go. However, he argued that open skies would not drive down the cost of travel because “any person in aviation in Europe or the USA” knows that it is virtually impossible to compete with LIAT because of the subsidies it receives from shareholder governments.

A regular intra-Caribbean traveller, Pitcher has also complained regularly about the high cost of travel through the region and has often called on Barbadians to boycott the airline.

However he told Barbados TODAY during today’s interview that he was beginning to see a reduction in the price of tickets.

“I am leaving to go to St Martin on Tuesday and the price of a ticket is US$357, but it was nearly twice that before. The cost of flying to St Kitts has also been reduced with a ticket to St Kitts costing a little over US$350. You benefit from this reduction in air fare if you are travelling to St Kitts on Mondays, Wednesdays or Saturdays,” Pitcher said.

While he as at it Pitcher also reserved some criticism for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and demanded to know the Prime Minister’s plans for the struggling carrier. “We need to find out what Prime Minister Stuart as the major shareholder is doing about LIAT. He said three months ago that he has plans for LIAT close to his chest. If he has, let the taxpayers of Barbados know what are his plans for LIAT.”

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