(Barbados Today) President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) Dr Hyginus Gene Leon has put forward a “two-stage process” for building out an effective air and sea transportation system in the region.
He proposes that “as an immediate solution” to the region’s transportation woes, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders should come together to create an air transportation system that allows all member states to have access to frequent airlift similar to what existed prior to the demise of regional carrier LIAT.
Explaining that governments would provide temporary support, Leon said the plan would be to put together a system that is going to be “viable and sustainable over the long-haul”.
“We need as a first stage, to have a coordinating mechanism that would take all of the assets that exist in the region and create a connectivity system that would allow for all routes, economically viable, under-served – to be able to travel and meet the needs at least going back to what was there before COVID. We all know what happened during COVID.
“Clearly, some of those routes are not viable and so if you are going to serve those routes there must be some support mechanism to allow those routes to ply for some period of time. You need to establish what is the tolerance, the threshold of support that is needed to make this happen and give yourself a window during which that support will be operationalised,” he explained.
He suggested that while some governments might be quick to dismiss the idea of providing financial support for a time, it could very well be cheaper than the current situation.
Leon explained that not having effective regional air transportation was resulting in loss time, with residents having to connect through the US, loss of job opportunities and a limitation to the region’s tourism product.
“Plus, whatever revenue guarantees you are giving to other airlines to at least let them ply the few routes they are doing, I can assure you that cost will be many times the cost of any support needed for a short period of time,” said Leon.
He said the newly-designed regional air transportation plan would require “a lean management” that would help to drive demand.
“We need to get around the idea that your demand is simply based on your population because your population on its own may never be viable. What if you can, in the principle of policy, talk about a tourism product that says ‘every one country you go to you could see two for the price of one’ for example?” he suggested.
“We need to be seeing ourselves as a region. We need to move beyond the boundaries of one country. We need to start seeing a marketing of the region, opening up the regulatory space that allows more of those things to happen without impediments, and for governments to decide on ‘where do I start my taxes’?. Those are details, but in principle, you can generate and create demand and make things viable . . . through a sharing mechanism,” he said.
Leon was responding to a question during the first Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) business luncheon for the year, held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre with The Role of Partnerships in Stimulating Sustainable Economic Development as the theme.
The second step, he said, would be to identify technologies that could replace the need for fuel-powered airlines.
“We have, to our advantage, short-haul businesses – less than 200 miles, up to 50 miles in some cases between countries. What prevents us from adopting a green technology – battery, hydrogen-powered, vertical take-off and landing that can hop from one country to the next? Why do we need to wait on the rest of the world to do it? Why can’t we be at the vanguard? You get around the cost of maintenance of moving fuel-ladened planes and tarnishing your environment at the same time by simply beginning to re-imagine,” he said.
The CDB head said once that was put in place, the same could be done with boats.
“Why can’t we have fast ferries moving people and goods at the same time at the different points in the islands?” he asked.