BRADES, Montserrat, Thursday, October18, 2012 – With its tourism industry already hurting due to limited air and sea access into the island, Montserrat has suffered a further setback in getting more travellers to the island with the official grounding of FlyMontserrat.
On October 16, Fly Montserrat received a letter from the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCA) restricting them from flying into any ECCAA member state until the airline meets certain requirements, which effectively grounded the airline.
The ECCAA ban followed an incident in which a FlyMontserrat aircraft rolled onto the grass on landing at John Osborne Airport in Montserrat earlier that morning, and the deadly crash of another aircraft in Antigua on October 7 in which three people were killed.
This ban comes at a time when Montserrat was already reaching out for private investors to improve its air and sea links with Antigua and Barbuda.
The severely limited access into Montserrat since the volcanic eruption 17 years ago destroyed its main airport and restricted flights into the island to only small Twin-Otter planes or similar vessels has hurt its tourism industry, the government said recently. It has been also trying to boost ferry access, requesting in its latest round of tendering that the ferry should be new and designed specifically for Montserrat’s conditions.
It had set next week, October 19, 2012, as the deadline by which it was accepting proposals from companies to operate air and sea links between Montserrat and Antigua, along with other regional destinations.
Following the grounding of Fly Montserrat, the government announced that St Vincent and the Grenadines Airline (SVG Air), will be adding more flights to meet the demands of the flying public.
Premier Reuben Meade said discussions will continue with SVG and another regional airline to ensure that with the coming festival season visitors will be able to travel to and from Montserrat.
In the meantime, the MV Carib Surf will be providing ferry service between Antigua and Montserrat twice daily this weekend.
He added that the ferry will be another reliable alternative for nationals and others planning to come home for the annual festival celebrations.
“It’s important to reiterate that we are aware of the critical importance of residents and visitors being able to travel when they need to. That is why we have been pursuing relationships with other carriers to ensure that both our air and sea access meet the needs of travellers,” Meade said.
The UK-based Air Safety Support International (ASSI), a wholly owned subsidiary of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, is currently conducting an audit of FlyMontserrat.
According to Maria Boyle, CEO of ASSI, their airworthiness surveyor Craig Stubbington and flight operations inspector Cydric Desbarida will both be travelling to the Caribbean to begin the audit of the airline’s operations.
The airworthiness surveyor is to travel to Anguilla, where FlyMontserrat’s aircraft are serviced. The flight operations inspector will travel to Montserrat early on Friday morning to look at the operational side.
Boyle said the ECCAA was invited to accompany ASSI on these audits as observers, but they declined in favour of receiving the report and findings.