($b = Trinidad $)
BWIA hunts for $b planes
By Juhel Browne (Trinidad Guardian)
At a time of staff cutbacks, national carrier BWIA West Indies Airways
taken steps to lease two new planes for a possible maximum price of $1
billion (US$180 million). This is not a done deal, however, says the
airline which has denied a report by the International Lease Finance
Corporation (ILFC) that it has already acquired the planes. On January
ILFC announced on its web site that BWIA had dry-leased two Airbus
A340-300s-MSN 88 and 93- for five years. ILFC, which leases aircraft to
airlines around the world, also stated the planes are scheduled for
delivery to BWIA in June and November. But Clint Williams, BWIA's
of corporate communications, last Thursday dismissed the ILFC report.
my knowledge a final decision has not been made and approved by the
Williams said. BWIA chief executive officer Conrad Aleong has written a
strong note to the ILFC condemning its announcement, he disclosed.
Williams did confirm BWIA has been actively pursuing the acquisition of
aircraft to replace two of its three ageing Lockheed L-1011 TriStars. A
committee of BWIA executives is leading the search for the planes. In
February edition of BWIA's in-flight magazine Caribbean Beat, Aleong
the airline expects to pay between US$144 million (TT$904 million) to
US$180 million (TT$1.1 billion) for the two planes. "There's no showroom
where you can pick out a new US$90 million (TT$565 million) aircraft or
slightly used one for US$72 million (TT$452 million) - that's roughly
we expect to pay for each of the two new, almost new, aircraft we will
deploying on the London route," Aleong wrote in his column.
Despite the conflicting reports about the acquisition, an industry
said BWIA is now in advanced negotiations with ILFC. The source said
wants to acquire two five-year-old Airbus Industrie A340-313s, different
models to the ones the ILFC said the airline had obtained. The A340-313
aircraft, now registered as C-FTNP and C-FTNQ, were formerly flown by
Canada. Air Canada will return three of the 12 A340s it leased back to
ILFC. One of these, the source said, is now being prepared for lease to
Air Jamaica while the other two are expected to go to BWIA. The source
BWIA should receive the aircraft by September or October and not June
November as the ILFC stated.
The new aircraft are meant to reduce the fuel and maintenance costs
incurred by the L-1011s. BWIA insists the purchases, if completed during
the restructuring exercise, will not contradict its cost cutting
BWIA's plan is not only to cut costs but also to find methods and
that will improve its efficiency and revenue earning ability. "A
restructuring exercise is not just a witch hunt to find people to fire,"
Williams said. "It would be premature to answer questions when we have
made a final decision." But premature is how Curtis John, acting
of the Aviation Communication & Allied Workers Union (ACAWU) described
BWIA's plan to buy any aircraft at this time. "If you are restructuring
people going to lose their jobs, now is not the right time to purchase
these aircraft," John said.
He did not disagree with the need for BWIA to replace the L-1011s.
John said the purchase of any aircraft, when BWIA says it has to reduce
staff, raises suspicions about the airline's true financial state. BWIA
has been looking for two new planes long before September 11, Williams
said. The airline had stated that its revenues and passengers loads have
decreased since the terrorist attacks in the United States. BWIA too
to return two MD-83s, to their leasing company, as it reduces flights as
well. The MD-83s normally ply BWIA's regional routes. John said the
airline's executives stated that US$3 million (TT$19 million) of BWIA's
revenue was already dedicated for the refurbishing of the L-1011s. "If
are doing a restructuring programme, you refurbish the L-1011s and when
are finished with your restructuring then purchase new aircraft," he
If BWIA has millions to purchase the aircraft, train and equip the
departments for their operation, John believed the airline can then
to keep its staff. "The company doesn't have valid reasons for sending
-with reporting by Vernon Khelawan, Antigua Sun
` Yeaah! Baade 152! Trabi of the Sky! '