ST JOHN’S, Antigua (CMC) – Less than three months after Antigua Airways made its inaugural flight emanating from West Africa, the Antigua and Barbuda government has taken a decision to temporarily halt chartered flights.
On November 1 last year, the historic flight departed Lagos, Nigeria with 100 passengers on board for the 12-hour journey.
In October, the Gaston Browne government defended the decision to allow for Antigua Airways to operate flights from West Africa directly to the Caribbean island saying the investors will be engaged in a wet lease which means all that is required is to have the financial resources to lease not only the plane but all of the supporting personnel.
But in a statement issued following the weekly Cabinet meeting— the first since the January 18 general election— the government said it “took a decision to halt temporarily the chartered flights emanating from West Africa”.
“The rules governing the member-countries of the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) are very strict; Antigua Airways had not complied fully with all of them. The organisers have pledged to fix all the deficiencies before resuming their service across the Atlantic from the Motherland,” the Cabinet statement said, without elaborating.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas said the government may have to repatriate visitors to West Africa amid media reports that several African visitors are struggling to find accommodation and some claiming they are only in the country en route elsewhere.
“It is recognised that there are a number of persons who had come on earlier flights, who are still in Antigua, and may need to be returned to their respective jurisdictions. We will obviously have to arrange for an aircraft to arrive to take those persons who are here back home in the coming days and weeks,” Nicholas told the post Cabinet news conference.
The Information Minister went on to further explain the government’s decision to suspend the charter flights.
“Antigua Airways, in order to establish the commercial viability of the route, arranged a few [chartered flights] and that came with clamour. What had transpired since was that their efforts were imitated by another operator who would have arranged another charter outside of the knowledge of the government,” Nicholas said.
He said that some charter operators were using Antigua and Barbuda as a stepping-stone and, therefore, the government had to suspend the routes from Africa to Antigua, describing the situation as an abuse of the government’s intention.
“If that opportunity has now lent itself to abuse, we certainly have to do the responsible thing and to curtail the use of the chartered flights to be able to ensure that, once we have established the routes properly,” he said.