Ease up air travel for CARICOM people

What took place

If Jamaica’s State Minister Delano Franklyn has his way, there should be less expensive air fares and shorter travel time for CARICOM nationals. Speaking at the eight annual Research Day at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies, he said: “We cannot create a single market in the region without making travel far more simple, less time consuming and cheaper.”

Interestingly, he was speaking ahead of this week’s formal signing of the instruments for the official launch of the first phase of the CSME.

He spoke about the challenges preventing the provision of adequate air transportation service for intra and extra-regional destinations, and said the four airlines that currently operate within the Caribbean region all did so with government subsidies.

Said the Minister:”This situation cannot continue forever.” He added: “As a matter of urgency, it is imperative that a regional approach be taken to pursue common functions jointly – both in the interest of the single market and in order to bring these airlines to profitability and reduce their burden on the region’s public purse.”

He went on to say the debate as to whether there should be a single political body to govern the region was still ongoing, and like the vexing issue of air transportation, must be kept on the “front burner”.

Franklyn added: “This issue, therefore, of whether or not the CSME can become a meaningful reality without an alteration and rearrangement of the existing regional ‘governance’ structure has been, and will continue to be a serious challenge to the leaders and people of the region.”

The Minister went on to say that while intra-regional trade, in terms of the CARICOM nationals undertaking economic activities in any country without restriction already existed, this currently stood at only about 10 per cent. Nevertheless, he said in order for the CSME to become stronger in that respect it would require a pooling of resources.

“Intra regional trade will only increase when there is an increased diversification in what we produce,” he said. “The challenge therefore is for the owners and managers of companies within the CSME to pool their resources in order to penetrate the markets of their countries and regions.

Secondly, for the government and the private sector of the region to develop a greater culture of production integration.”

Editorial view

A radio editorial supported Minister Franklyn’s view and said that it was absurd to have four airlines in a small region like the Caribbean. And a region that faces financial challenges at that. It called for a rationalisation of the matter and also expressed the view that the cost of air travel within the region was much too expensive.

High airfares, as they are now, serve to keep our people from travelling to each other’s country thereby denying them the opportunity of interacting with their CARICOM relatives, I went on.

The editorial pointed out that while it is true that the cost of fuel has increased, surely the CARICOM governments could jointly make approaches to Trinidad and Tobago, which has petroleum, and also to Venezuela and perhaps Suriname (which also has some oil) to come up with a reasonable cost for aviation fuel. The savings, it added, would then be passed on to the consumer and that would make air travel affordable.