Flow Control at V.C. Bird Int’l continues…Gov’t given 7 days to consider ATC counter proposal
By Ryan Haas
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts-THE dispute between air traffic controllers at the V.C. Bird International Airport and the government continues to cripple air travel in Antigua and Barbuda and despite yesterday’s (Jan. 5) meeting between the two parties, the ‘flow control will’ continue.
According to the Public Relations Officer of the Guild of Antigua and Barbuda Air Traffic Controllers (GABATCO), Wesley Joseph, the meeting’s intention was for the government to consider a counter proposal from his union after they had rejected the government’s original offer on December 29, 2008.
GABATCO allegedly hopes to receive equipment and training upgrades, retroactive travel allowances, increased salaries and a new contract deal out of the negotiations with the government.
“Both parties agreed that the meeting had been cordial and constructive and further agreed to work together to arrive at a mutually agreeable settlement,” Joseph informed the media following the meeting.
While he noted that strides had been made at the session, including further commitments for financial restitution and health care, Joseph said that more work remained to be done and the government would have seven days to review the counterproposal brought forth by GABATCO before deciding whether or not to accept its terms. ~~Adz:Right~~
In the meantime, it is expected that the ‘flow control’ instituted by the air traffic controllers in Antigua before the Christmas holiday season will continue.
Though the workers have repeatedly stated that ‘flow control’ is well within the legal bounds of their positions, the action only allows one plane to land every twenty minutes and has had significant negative impact on the airlines operating there.
The Antigua and Barbuda-based carrier LIAT (1974) Ltd. has expressed its anguish over the extended negotiations due to an estimated loss of US $500,000 since the ‘flow control’ was enacted on Dec. 19, 2008.
“We’ve had numerous cancellations and just about every flight delayed. Every night we’ve had planes coming back into Antigua for the last run at midnight or one o’clock in the morning, which means quite a bit of overtime. The cost has been considerable,” LIAT’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Darby informed SKNVibes.
He also said that the slow of traffic to and from Antigua has hurt his company’s reputation and even led to incidents of physical assault against members of his customer service staff.
“If the dispute is not resolved or there is not some moderating of the situation…it is only going to get worse,” he said. Darby also stated that scheduled maintenance on runway lights and resurfacing of the landing surface at the VC Bird International Airport this week would mean even more delays for his customers.
“Please be patient with us is all we can say. We did not cause this problem and we are doing the best that we can to make sure our customers reach their destinations in a timely manner. Unfortunately, our hands are very tied at this time.”
Other daily and semi-daily air carriers operating in the twin island nation have expressed similar displeasure with the delayed resolution.
Caribbean Airlines have begun routing their flights to avoid the troubled destination altogether, while WIN Air Chief Executive Officer Edwin Hodge has reportedly estimated his company’s loss at over US $200,000.
However, carriers who frequent the VC Bird International Airport less often per week have been less hindered by the delays.
One Virgin Atlantic Airways spokesperson who spoke to SKNVibes said that the airline “hasn’t really been heavily impacted by the flow control”.
“The effects have been minimal up to this point as we haven’t had any major problem,” the spokesperson said, stating that they have still been able to operate their “three long haul flights out of London Gatwick in the UK to Antigua per week” without significant interruption.
He did say however, that the situation was not just affecting airlines, it was also impacting Antigua’s tourism on a whole, adding that “we hope that the government and the Air Traffic Controllers organization can resolve this matter as quickly as possible”.
Attempts to reach Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister with responsibility for Civil Aviation and Tourism, Hon. Harold Lovell, regarding future actions by the government to satisfy the air traffic controllers were unsuccessful.