Bahamasair Plans To Increase Tourist Load 30%

Bahamasair is hoping it will be able to implement a strategic plan for its "renaissance" by end-June 2010, its chairman told Tribune Business yesterday, with one component involving an increase in the percentage of tourist passengers it carried from 5/10 per cent to 30 per cent.

Although declining to specify too many details until the plan had been discussed with all relevant stakeholders, J Barrie Farrington said the plan, which is being assessed by the Government, emphasised using Bahamasair "for the enhancement of our tourism industry" by establishing new routes to link untapped visitor markets with this nation.

"The Board and management have prepared a plan to take us forward," Mr Farrington told Tribune Business in an exclusive interview. "We think it contains the elements that give us the best opportunity to bring about a revival, or renaissance, of Bahamasair.

"The plan is now under consideration. It is now before the Government, and hopefully we will be able to arrive at a position that will enable us to proceed with its implementation. We're hopeful we'll have a road map by the end of June at the latest."

Mr Farrington said the Board/management plan had "advocated that we have a national airline that can be used far more beneficially for the enhancement of our tourism industry, and what we want to do at the Board level, and with government approval, is as soon as practical, commence a strategic growth plan to accomplish that".

Such a plan would need the co-operation and input of both the Ministry of Tourism and the Government, and but Mr Farrington said: "We saw the opportunities as being very possible to capitalize on. We think Bahamasair is the carrier to get into new markets with the right kind of support from the Ministry of Tourism, the Government."

Bahamasair's current passenger mix was about 90 per cent Bahamian, the rest being tourists and other visitors. "Instead of 5-10 per cent, it probably should be in the order of 30 per cent of stopover visitors coming through Bahamasair," Mr Farrington added.

He acknowledged, though, that to effect such a service Bahamasair would need a "better quality of jet aircraft" to meet tourism demands and service a greater number of routes, its existing two jets being old and having a limited remaining lifespan.

This, of course, would also require major capital investment and a reconfiguration of Bahamasair's fleet, at a time when the Government's finances are stretched, while the airline's request for an extra $7 million subsidy indicates its projected loss for the 2009-2010 financial year will be anywhere between the projected $15.1 million and $22 million-plus.

Arguing that "we've got to be prepared to break new ground" if Bahamasair was to become an airline that could produce "good bottom line results", Mr Farrington said the plan before the Government would take the airline from providing "limited service" on domestic and international routes to an operation that not only did this, but could also offer charter services.

"We're going to have to reconfigure the existing fleet in some form to give us more flexibility and the like, but it's [the plan] taking us to this new operational position," Mr Farrington said.

"That's what we should be doing. If that's our lifeblood, the national airline should be more instrumental in tourism for the benefit of the country.

"Our thrust has to be looking at organisation, structure, the composition of the fleet, service to the network we now serve and doing it efficiently and competently, and developing a strategic growth plan that takes us to the future and includes tourism.

"We've got to find the will to make significant changes to the way the airline operates.

Bahamasair's operating loss for its last completed financial year, 2008-2009, was $12.9 million, Tribune Business was told yesterday, and Mr Farrington pledged to put the airline's cost structure "under the microscope" again in a bid to cope with the reduced additional subsidy it was receiving. He doubted, though, that large costs savings could be found in any one area.

And the Bahamasair chairman warned the unions representing the airline's workforce that there was no funding available to provide their members with increased salaries and benefits, firing a warning shot across the bows before talks commence, as "all our industrial agreements have expired".

Mr Farrington said that while no increases would be forthcoming if Bahamasair was a private airline, the decision on a new industrial agreement would likely be taken elsewhere.

"In any business where you're losing money, you have to find a way to hold the line," Mr Farrington said. "Bahamasair has always found a way to make increases in compensation and benefits. Unquestionable, the airline is going to be hard pressed to make any improvements in that area, where financing costs are an issue. We may as well tell them now: We ain't got no money."

Source: The Tribune