Guyana accuses CAL of rejecting solution to duty free purchase row

Last Updated on Sunday, 19 June 2016, 14:32 by Denis Chabrol

Guyana on Sunday strongly refuted claims by Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL) that Guyanese duty free rum purchases made at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) were being seized from transiting passengers in Trinidad in keeping with security requirements by that country and the United States’ (US) Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

A top official of Guyana’s aviation sector laid the blame squarely at CAL, saying that carrier bluntly refused to comply with the CJIA’s proposed solution to allow passengers to purchase duty free liquor and place them in their checked luggage rather than take it aboard the plane. That proposal would have entailed  supervision by CJIA and CAL’s security.

“The issues that Caribbean Airlines is raising about interference with their TSA regulations and so on do not arise at all. The passenger has no duty-free in their hand,” the Guyanese aviation decision-maker told Demerara Waves Online News. Instead, that official said, CAL’s representatives at CJIA have been telling outgoing passengers that they risked having their duty free rum seized in Trinidad and “gave them no option.”

Demerara Waves Online News was told that CAL’s Area Manager- South America- Roy Ferguson refused in writing to facilitate the arrangement in a sterile area where passengers’ duty-free rum purchases  would  have been placed in their checked luggage. “Our directives had absolutely no extra-territorial effect and did not in any way impinge upon the TSA regulations or directives affecting the Piarco (International) Airport,” the official said.

While Minister responsible for Aviation, David Patterson did not disclose the details of CJIA’s proposed solution that has been so far rubbished by CAL, he said that airport corporation’s board acknowledged that TSA rules are part of the reason for the impasse, any new measures would cost CAL and that Trinidad and Tobago’s Piarco International Airport is not under the control of CAL. “They (the board) agreed that this is not only a CAL matter and other stakeholders are involved.”

“For those reasons, they sought to find a solution that was local, meaning that the burden (and majority of costs) would be borne be the CJIA, duty free operators and local security groups. The proposal that was refused called for all actions to be taken be done in Guyana, before departure to Trinidad, thus the requirements of TTCAA (Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation Authority) and TSA would not have been compromised,” the minister said.

Patterson said that sadly CAL refused to cooperate with the CJIA board-suggested option and was unwilling  to offer any alternative. “Finally the Board objected strongly to the fact that CAL agents were telling passengers on check in that “buying duty free products in Guyana, was at their own risk” plus informing them “that they have an opportunity to purchase duty free in Trinidad without the same risks.”

CAL has since requested a meeting with top CJIA officials aimed at resolving the issue in this market which is regarded as a major one to that Trinidad and Tobago-owned carrier. A senior airport negotiator said CJIA would be sticking to its position that CAL must facilitate the proposed solution or any other option that would allow Guyanese to take their duty free purchases to their final destination, mainly the US. “Either that or whatever solution that facilitates the movement through (of duty-free liquor purchases) but from our point of view it does not appear that we can rely on Caribbean Airlines to provide a solution in Trinidad to this problem. I would have to say that there appears to be a conflict of business interests and it appears that it might be in the interest of Caribbean Airlines to ensure that iur duty-free (purchases) are not processed through Trinidad,” the official who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

The Minister responsible for Aviation hoped that the two sides would resolve the issue to their mutual benefit. “It is my personal hope that this matter can be resolved in the best interest of the Guyanese public and business as well as our long standing partner in aviation- CAL,” he said.

The aviation official said that after CJIA took all necessary steps orally, in writing and administratively CAL was issued with a directive to comply within 21 days which expires on July 6, 2016 or its air services agreement would be cancelled.

Guyana government aviation sector officials accused CAL of sabotaging the country’s rum industry and the duty free shops at the CJIA.  They said the concessionaires have begun pressuring the airport authority to fix the issue, especially since they have registered low sales among the 27,000 passengers who came and left  Guyana after the recent 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations.