By Esther Durand, BVI News Staff
VI Airlink pilot, Neville Brathwaite Jr has said the lack of hangar space at the TB Lettsome International Airport has negatively affected the company’s bottom line because it has to spend almost double to maintain their fleet abroad.
Brathwaite said this became an issue for the airline when the hurricanes Irma and Maria affected the Beef Island-based airport back in September 2017.
He said: “A BVI legacy source of aviation since the 1970s is without a nest to rest its birds and has to take the maintenance of their large aircraft to Anguilla, Puerto Rico and Florida every month for services that VI Airlink were able to perform here in the BVI.”
“The BVI’s only BVI-registered and local airline celebrated 10 years linking the BVI to the outside world and providing their community service by linking the islands of Anegada, and Virgin Gorda to Beef Island and is under even more pressure from the current administration.”
Braithwaite explained that the airline previously had a 25-year lease agreement for land at the airport. However, he said the airline was asked to sign it over after the hurricanes of 2017.
He said the previous NDP government had stated that it was necessary for VI Airlink to sign over their lease agreement because the hangars were going to be relocated. However, the airline was later slapped with a meagre five-year lease offer instead.
VI Airlink pilot said things worsened for the airline since the new VIP administration took office months ago. Brathwaite said government informed the airline that they “do not want to lease land or even have anyone own land on the airport in Beef Island, so their offer is to build and rent the hangars”.
He said the airline’s proposed hangar plan is to construct a hangar space at the airport for the future growth of the locally-owned airline.
“We asked for a 50 to 99 year lease on land for the airline and maintenance facility because people come from outside and get 99-year leases and even in other countries the government gives or even leases land to their local airlines in some territories for a dollar a month to $450 a year,” Brathwaite explained.
He continued: “We are going on three years, and they have the handle, and we have the blade. At this time, we would like to be able to get our hangar up and running and be able to continue our business. If they want to rent, that is totally unacceptable to us, and we need to come to some sort of solution.”
The estimated rent on the proposed hangar is $13,500 a month, Braithwaite said.
Maintenance is costly
In the meantime, Braithwaite said the current situation is costing the company a lot more money.
He said: “The paint job on an aeroplane can last 15 to 20 years when in a hangar [but] when not in a hangar, the life span on a paint job is less than five years. A paint job starts at $20,000 to $70,000 per aircraft, travel for engineers, aircraft, parts and tools have gone up considerably, in the first few months by $60 to $80,000 due to having to go off-island to perform maintenance.”
“Our maintenance cost has doubled due to being out in the elements and the current administration has gone quite as to the fate of V I Airlink’s hangar situation. Now the current administration is putting the squeeze in my opinion on the little donkey the V I Airlink to try and recoup the lost given to outside airlines,” he pointed out.
We contribute to the economy
Meanwhile, Braithwaite said the company contributes ‘greatly’ to the local economy as the revenue remains in the BVI.
“All our finance interest stays in the BVI, all our aeroplanes are registered in the BVI, we are the only airline in the BVI that gives BVI pilots and engineers the opportunity to be in aviation. We now are met with silence and no clear answer as to the direction of a hangar for the airline and think it is a further strain and disadvantage we are being put under,” he surmised.
When BVI News contacted Premier and Finance Minster Andrew Fahie for comments, his only response was “[I am] in budget sessions”.
Back in July of last year, former Junior Minister for Tourism Archibald Christian said the previous National Democratic Party (NDP) administration should have invested in a local airline like the VI Airlink as it now has no idea of where the owners and operators of the defunct BVI Airways were located.
The present administration is now before the court with the airline’s operators in a bid to recoup the $7.2 million that was pumped into it.
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