A war of words has broken out in the airspace between Barbados and neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago over the payment of navigation fees for aircraft flying between the two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.
At present the Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation Authority administers the airspace over 30,000 feet in the south eastern Caribbean.
However, as part of that responsibility, Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy today charged that Port of Spain has been collecting “millions of dollars” in fees for aircraft coming into Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) for which he demanded payment by cheque.
In leading off debate on the Civil Aviation (Amendment) Bill, 2016, Sealy did not reveal exactly how much he perceived was owed to Bridgetown, but he argued that “a sizable sum of money” was due, while suggesting that the continued non-payment amounted to a major oversight on the part of the Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation authorities that should be settled as soon as possible.
The senior Government spokesman further argued that an agreement had been reached for the appropriate sharing by Port of Spain of the navigation fees collected with the territories in the Eastern Caribbean. However, Sealy charged that the arrangement had not been honoured by T&T even though he said GAIA was busier than Piarco with over 30,000 landings and takeoffs a year.
He also told fellow parliamentarians that the issue had recently been elevated to the level of the CARICOM Heads of Government, who are scheduled to meet in Guyana next week for their annual summit.
“I would like that whatever they have for the Eastern Caribbean, and Barbados in particular, they could just get around to sending the cheques across,” the Minister of Civil Aviation told Parliament today, adding that the timing was perfect because Barbados was putting its business plan in place and it needed to have its revenue sources in order so that the country could build up the Civil Aviation Authority and by extension the civil aviation sector.
However, when contacted by Barbados TODAY this evening, Director General of Civil Aviation Trinidad and Tobago Ramesh Lutchmedial said as far as he was concerned, there were no outstanding navigation fees due to Barbados.
He pointed out that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was the body responsible for assigning airspace territory and as far back as 1950 it had assigned the Piarco Flight Information Region (FIR) to Trinidad and Tobago. He also highlighted Article 15 of the Chicago Convention, of which Barbados is a signatory, saying “a country can only charge airlines if they provide a service to the airlines.
“We only charge airlines for services we provide above 24,500 feet, so therefore, we don’t owe Barbados or any other Eastern Caribbean state any money because we are not collecting monies for flying in their terminal areas or for any services that we provide.
“We only charge the airlines for the air navigation services that the civil aviation authority provides to the airlines,” he said, insisting that the charges pertained to the international aerospace and not the sovereign territory of Barbados or any other islands of the Eastern Caribbean.
The Trinidadian official also dismissed Sealy’s suggestion that an agreement had been reached between the islands, saying, “there was no agreement” to speak of.
He explained that after ICAO had formulated an agreement to be signed by all the parties several years ago, “Barbados and the OECS did not show up for the meeting to sign the agreement”.
However, he pointed out that in terms of navigational aids, Trinidad and Tobago had assisted Barbados with the purchase of a VOR (navigation station for aircraft, explaining that “we paid Barbados 246,000 US dollars, representing half the cost of it, because we not only use it for approach into Barbados, but also for flying in the FIR”.
At the same time, Lutchmedial stressed that no fees were collected in the Barbados terminal area that is below 24,500 feet. He said while he had been hearing the talk for the past 15 years of outstanding fees, “the fact is that we only collect money for the service that we provide”.
He said he could not confirm how much Trinidad collects in fees within area it calls “international navigational space”, but said it was based on a cost recovery basis, adding that Trinidad and Tobago had to make full disclosure on what it was costing to provide the service.
“We are not around to make a profit and we do not make a profit. Purely cost recovery,” he said.
“Further when we agreed on the initial range, Barbados, Antigua and St Vincent made representations to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago that the rates were a bit high, and therefore they would affect tourism in their territories, and our Government decided to subsidize the rate,” the Trinidad civil aviation top official said.
“So that what we are charging the airlines is not the full rate of cost recovery. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago, the taxpayers of Trinidad and Tobago, continue to subsidize that service that we provide to the airlines,” he said.
He therefore concluded that as far as he was concerned no money was owed by Trinidad to anyone.
However, he said the Trinidad authorities were “most willing” to sit down with Sealy to explain to him “in the minutest of detail exactly what we charge the airlines for and the basis for those charges”.