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Benn lukewarm to Harmon’s lower airfare formula

An aerial view of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri.

Transport Minister Robeson Benn has poured cold water on a suggestion by the opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) that the 15 percent travel voucher tax be slashed by five percent to cushion the impact of rising international airfares.

Benn said the tax was crucial to the upkeep of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) based at Timehri, East Bank Demerara.

“We have to evaluate the feasibility. If the infrastructure isn’t supported and maintained, then there will be nothing to fly out and land on,” Benn told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com).

He was reacting to APNU’s Shadow Communications Minister Joseph Harmon’s recommendation that the tax be reduced due to the recent steep increase in the cost of airline tickets for travel to and from Guyana and the claim by airlines that the increased fares are unavoidable.”

Harmon urged Benn to swiftly implement his recommendation to help reduce the impact of higher fares on the Guyanese travelling public. It costs as much as US$1,400 for a return ticket to New York on Caribbean Airlines (CAL).

Instead, Benn said government’s approach to getting lower fares included inviting and welcoming other airlines like Brazil’s COPA and Fly Jamaica. Talks are also continuing with Suriname Airways. A new airline, Fly Guyana, also plans serving the Georgetown-New York route from October.

The Guyanese Transport Minister expressed grave disappointment and concern at Caribbean Airlines’ price gouging in the Guyanese market. “We are pretty certain that we are subsidising CAL,” he said.

“Given the higher fares, we arte subsiding CAL. We are the most profitable segment of all their routes,” said Benn.

Benn noted that fares out of Trinidad and Tobago were much lower compared to Guyana, a situation he described as “untenable for the travelling public.”

The Transport Minister charged that CAL was not being run in a lean or cost-effective manner, resulting in the Caribbean’s travelling public suffering.

He acknowledged that government’s decision to grant flag carrier status to CAL to allow the carrier to operate direct flights to New York and Toronto did not yield the desired result.

The CJIA earned GUY$$1,094 million in 2012 compared to GUY$748 million in 2011. The airport has attributed the 46 percent increase in revenue to additional rental/concession fees and passenger service charges.