21 January, 2009

Access Tsar

Hon Donna Banks “Access Tsar” of Anguilla. There was much hoopla when we read in the 12 January edition of The Anguillian: “If all goes well, as planned, there will be a solution in the near future to the difficulty of full airlift from Puerto Rico into Wallblake Airport, Anguilla.” Great news.

But then I read on: “Hon Banks spoke about certain guarantees which the Anguilla Government were expected to meet in accordance with the new flight arrangements to the island.” Oh-oh – this sounds expensive, I thought.

I continued to read: “Replying to a question, Ms Banks said that the start of the service was being promoted for February 14 and it was hoped that Kirby Hodge would be in a position to secure the necessary finances for the aircraft. It is understood that such a 1900 D Turboprop Beechcraft would cost in the region of three million US dollars.”

Now the article really had my attention – How was Mr. Hodge going to find financing in today’s current economic climate? And, US$3 million for a turboprop plane? Sounds pretty expensive to me. And, service starting in one month when there is no financing, FAA clearance, insurance – not even a plane?

I thought I’d better investigate.

It turns out that the press release was only what the public was being told – there was actually a “secret” committee sending out “secret” emails that told a totally different story. At a board meeting on 13 January, after suitable prayers for direction by Anguilla’s Access Tsar, the Hon Donna Banks, an Air Services Development Programme was agreed by those present. It was decided to call a general meeting of the members of the Anguilla Hotel and Tourism Association for 21 January to try to persuade them to agree on the funding of the purchase of this aeroplane. It was also agreed to recommend funding of US$4.3 million for operating costs, with US$3.87 million, or US$322,500 per month, guaranteed by the government of Anguilla.

According to the plan, Cap Juluca, CuisinArt, Viceroy, and Island Dream Properties will pay the lion’s share of financing this private airline. But, restaurants and “allied members” will too.

It is appropriate for a number of questions to be asked in these very difficult times. Aircraft are being repossessed left and right. What is the great urgency in grabbing this wonderful offer before someone else does? Why the pressure for an instant decision? Why not just lease an aircraft instead of purchasing one?

Anguilla does not usually issue contracts of this size without competitive bidding. There are several Anguillians who can operate air services. Have they been invited to put in a bid? Is the Anguilla Tourism Board not required by law to use the Tenders Board before they can give out contracts to whoever smiles at them and talks sweetly?

And, why give this "no bid" contract and revenue to a Charlotte Amalie company? Would it not be better for all of us to give the contract to a locally based business? That would keep the revenue as well as all the ancillary support business for ourselves.

Even if Rainbow is a great option, should not the members of the AHTA be given the opportunity to explore all options before the Access Tsar presents them with a fait accomplis and literally hands them the pen to sign on the dotted line?

Why try to mortgage all the little hotels in Anguilla? Just so we can have what amounts to a national airline? Do these people not know the history of national airlines in the West Indies? Have they already forgotten the enormous deficits they have incurred for the governments and people that have guaranteed their expenses?

How is Kirby Hodge going to get financing for a venture like this when no one else is getting financing for anything? How is he going to get the ‘plane purchased, insured, FAA clearances, and landing and gate clearances in 30 days for a February 14 start up? If they are lucky, by the time this is all set up, the season will be over.

And, what happens when in one month’s time American Eagle says, “We are adding two more flights to Anguilla”, and drops the fare? Does this fellow get a free ‘plane when the service goes bankrupt?

Does the Tourist Board think that setting up a service like this is like buying a used car? You just get a licence and off you go? What have they been smoking?

Even if it was a private enterprise, with no backing from anyone, these ventures take years to show a profit. Does Donna really think there will be 38 people just waiting to get on this ‘plane’s two flights? And, that the same thing will be repeated every day, for ever? And, Anguilla is expected to guarantee Mr Hodge US$8,000.00 per trip, or US$16,000.00 per day?

Has ExCo already approved this initiative?

Is there pressure to announce the service, which does not yet exist, at the upcoming New York marketing meeting?

Posts on various Anguilla forums indicate that the Rainbow International service was formally “announced” before Christmas. It has already reached an international audience.

Two postings on Anguilla Guide indicate that at least they are not taking people’s money. So, Islander posts, “Has anyone actually booked seats on Rainbow at the above rates? I am hearing conflicting stories about the reality of this new service?” Then, Beach Court Villa posts, “With great anticipation, I contacted Rainbow International Airways to purchase seats for the SJU-AXA legs. To my great disappointment, the hoped-for start date of around February 12, 2009 will not be realised. No one there would venture to estimate a new start date, which leads me to fear that it is quite some way off. What a shame for the owners and for all of us whose schedules have been so disrupted by AA and AE.”

All I can say is, this seems to me like a disaster waiting to happen.

But, according to Ms Banks, this is all secret. It is not for “public consumptions [sic]” by persons other than those designated to be on the committee.

Maybe, this will all come out when we get our new Freedom of Information Act?


  1. It is common practice for small airports in the U.S. to receive funding from local business' to ensure that the airlines that come in to the area don't lose money.
    Wouldn't it be a better use of public funds to approach an established airline with this sort of proposition?

  2. You ask, "Is there pressure to announce the service, which does not yet exist, at the upcoming New York marketing meeting?"

    Too late, sorry - it was announced today on Caribbean Net News:

    Anguilla announces new executive air service
    Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    NEW YORK, USA: Anguilla’s Ministry of Tourism has announced the launch of a new executive air service which will operate between San Juan, Puerto Rico and Anguilla. The new service, scheduled to start on February 14, 2009, will be provided on the Anguilla Air Express, and operated by Rainbow International Airlines Inc....

    Does the Minister of Tourism know that Anguilla will be starting to operate an airline in three weeks but we haven't figured out who's going to pay for the plane?

    Good work, Ms. Banks. As George Bush said after he invaded Iraq, "Mission Accomplished!"

  3. This is a sure loser. I'm sure American Eagle would have picked up these flights if the traffic was there. Its just easier and cheaper to get here from almost anywhere in the US via St. Marteen.
    Maybe if there was an income tax the obvious waste of money would be called into question.

  4. "jimimac" suggests that it might be better use of public funds to approach an established airline than Kirby Hodge.

    The writer must be new in Anguilla and does not realize that we must ask, "Better for who?" Is anyone getting paid off? Is there enough slack built in to the purchase and operating costs to provide "a little something" for putting this deal together?

    The rules and practices are different in the Caribbean. As Dorothy said to her dog when they landed in Oz, "We're not in Kansas any more, Toto!"

  5. Forget the airline, make the ferry service direct to the St. Maartin airport better. I love the direct service to St. Maatin from the states then direct ferry to Anguilla. Never did understand putting the $ into the airport expansion.
    How many small airlines have gone under and what will passengers do when the plane has a problem, change to AA.

  6. Almost as interesting as this totally absurd idea is the observation that the 3rd top resort in AXA, Malliouhana, is missing from the monetary support list.
    This entire proposal is so downright ludicrous that it is almost laughable.

  7. Corruption fans may recall the line in The Godfather, Part II, how Don Fanucci, the Black Hand, explains to the immigrant shopkeepers in New York's Hells Kitchen district that his charge for "protecting" them is really quite reasonable.. "I don't want a lot," he explains. "Just enough to wet my beak."

    Anguilla has much in common with New York in the old days. Is someone getting paid off? If so, who is the bag man?

  8. I don't understand this deal. After the Malliouhana, CuisinArt, Cap Juluca an dem put up all these millions, who will own the plane? Government? ATB? AHTA? The Tsarina? Victor? John Benjamin? Kirby? Kirby brother who goes by Smith? The secret committee? A blind trust run by Joe Brice? The Black Hand?

  9. “And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”
    --President Obama

  10. In today’s economic climate it makes sense to investigate and evaluate all possible avenues to increase airlift into Anguilla but not if the cost of the venture bankrupts the businesses who are being press ganged into supporting the private jet service.

  11. "Anguilla has much in common with New York in the old days. Is someone getting paid off? If so, who is the bag man?"

    The bird with the largest beak is the Pelican. The number 1 cause of Pelican mortality is blindness. Dive one too many times and "the bird" looses sight. Eventually, the aerial fisherman starves to death. Unfortunately, I do not believe you can wait that long. - Scotty

  12. "The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite."
    --Thomas Jefferson

  13. Insane is the only comment I can make on this proposal and I can only wonder if if there is some sort of virus that is going around in my belved Anguilla that is infecting everyone in high places with major delusions.

  14. Whoa! we're going down the wrong road. Are we willing to burden our government and AHTA members with unconscionable debt without reliable statistical evidence to support the investment?

    These actions suggest an emotional and paternalistic approach to solving a problem rather than sound business and financial practices. What do we know AA doesn't?

    Two thoughts: approach AA with a plan to guarantee them X number of seats on afternoon Eagle. Numbers and costs can be mathematically computed from existing data and a resolution negotiated.

    Re-design and improve transport services from Julianna Airport directly to Blowing Point. Easier immigration, better luggage handling, and reliable ferry schedules. If properly structured and managed it could be first class service much like Four Seasons offers in St. Kitts-Nevis.

    Give this serious consideration as more visitors find it less expensive and convenient to come through St. Maarten and there are some darn good reasons this will work.

    This is indeed a serious issue that deserves further study and a
    more business-like and financially prudent approach to resolve.

  15. Mr. Mitchell,

    Your post in this case is littered with innuendo and certainly lacks integrity in analysis. It is not becoming of a man called to profession that both you and I are called.

    First you state that "And, US$3 million for a turboprop plane? Sounds pretty expensive to me." I'm sure we can both agree that you're no expert on aircrafts and their pricing. A cursory Wikipedia search would have uncovered that the sales price in 2001 for an aircraft like this was just under $5 million so $3 million would be a bargain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beechcraft_1900

    You then go on to mention "secret" committee meetings as if something nefarious were taking place in these meetings. Again, as an attorney who has undoubtedly engaged in high stakes negotiations you would understand the sensitivity of some discussions.

    Fait accomplis? Again, you load your choice of words for dramatic effect, but your piece lacks analysis, inspiration and substance.

    I wouldn't venture to attack your piece on its lack of journalistic integrity, because this is the blogosphere and I don't think you'd venture to call yourself a journalist.

    But even for a non-journalist, and especially as for a man called to the bar - this is so beneath you.

    For anonymous posters who suggest that additional service to Princess Juliana is "the" answer I suggest considering the travel schedule that many people coming to the island encounter.

    For example, many travelers come the East Coast of the U.S. say NY and Miami, but many others come from places in the Midwest and the West Coast and the last thing they want to do after flying for 8 to 12 hours is to get on a boat on the open seas for the first time in their lives.

    I enjoy getting on the boat, but I was born and raised o Anguilla and I love the sea. Many of our visitors don't have a similar background.

    There is no doubt that our leaders have a fiduciary duty and are thus accountable for their use of public funds or publicly supported projects. However, wild and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories - even those cloaked in subtlety - do not in anyway advance the protection of the public trust.

    Regards – Olaide Banks

  16. If Olaide thinks the issue is the cost of the plane, then the whole point of Don's rant has been missed.

  17. If Olaide thinks an announcement from the Ministry that service will start on 14 February isn't a fait accompli, my years of studying Latin were completely wasted.

  18. Mr. Banks, spending $3 million for a $5 million aircraft is the equivalent of buying a Ferrari without wheels, tires and engine. Not to mention that the Beach1900 has somewhat of a miserable maintenance record. I know, I had to keep them in the air.

    The plane itself is not the sticker of this discussion. The service is, and at this time it is totally unnecessary. Who said those pale midwesterners don't enjoy the boat ride over? Try Funtime next trip. I've never seen happier kids/parents anywhere.

  19. ...And, ultimately, if GOA actually *believed* in the free market instead of paying it mere lip-service in the press, it would undo the problem it *caused* in the first place, and *deregulate* access to the island instead of appointing a Tsar(ina?) to control it even further.

    With the exception of external threats to the lives of its citizens and property in time of war, or internal threats to the lives and property of its citizens by criminals, *no* government worth the free exercise of its citizens' franchise should be involved in "providing access" to a nation by attempting to literally gerrymander competition in its aviation market.

    The only things a government can *really* do well are in its sole function as force-monopoly: hurt people and break things. In this particular case, *all* it can do is to ultimately *reduce* access to Anguilla by regulating transport business into -- if you will -- the ground.

    The Government should deregulate Anguilla's skies, and then stand back and let the, um, planes, go by. :-)

  20. Anonymous et al,

    My main issue with the lead post and many of the anonymous responses is the "pot shot" approach to the analysis of the situation.

    It is wholly reasonable and indeed arguably that we have a responsibility as citizens to disagree on the merits of the proposed service and maybe even the negotiation process.

    Open and honest debate is a fundamental element of democracy. However, the lead post and many of the comments attempted to advance a conspiracy theory through innuendo and incomplete reporting.

    The service records of the air - that could be a valid consideration. Who knows?

    I have a couple questions...

    (1) Do we currently have adequate air service into Anguilla from North America?

    (2) What options or alternatives are presenting themselves?

    (3) Has any other group proposed a feasible option?

    So much of our collective futures and livelihoods on Anguilla is tied to our island's accssibility and doing things more efficiently on the island.

    Don't get me wrong. I love fun time and many of the artists that we bring to Anguilla use that service. But folks the first time someone schedules a trip to Anguilla in many cases they won't know about our ferry services and quite frankly sometimes its not something that peoiple are up to.

    Options are not a bad thing, neither is access through Puerto Rico.

    Regards - Olaide Banks

  21. I have a "pot shot" approach to this proposal because I believe the people have been lied to, and because it is very difficult to get many details or understand some of the reasoning.

    Why has the Ministry of Tourism announced that this service will start on 14 February, when neither the plane nor the money for it exist?

    Maybe it wasn't a conspiracy. Maybe it was ignorance, or corruption, or someone simply "mis-spoke," as in "Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that she “misspoke” when she said last week that she ran from sniper fire when she landed in Bosnia in 1996." You can call that whatever you want in America, but in Anguilla we call that a lie.

    Suggesting that negotiations be explored with American Eagle is apparently invalid because this suggestion didn't come from a "group."

    There is evidence that John Benjamin attempted to force this down the throat of AHTA and its membership, contrary to the wishes of its board of directors.

    Why all the secrecy? What would have happened if everyone knew everything right from the start? Is someone doing something they don't want me to know? Are we afraid American Eagle will declare war on Anguilla? Are we afraid some other island government will hear about this wonderful opportunity and hire Kirby away from us? Yes, sometimes negotiations must be conducted in secret. There's supposed to be a reason for this. What conceivable reason was there in this case?

  22. If Chris Mason can see my banking correspondence, why can't I see how what amounts to a national airline will be structured and financed?

  23. Your frauds and schemes and plans can n'ere distress me
    For when your evil work is done
    Just like the morning sun I'll come
    Carrying my cross
    Carrying my cross
    Carrying my cross
    Wisdom, show me the right
    Guide me safely through the night
    Wisdom, show me the light
    Take my hand and lead me through the fight.

    Bankie Banks, Prince of Darkness," 1997

  24. Believe me, as a tourist coming to Anguilla I'd much rather trust the ferry or a charter such as Funtime over a Mom & Pop airline called "Rainbow International".

    It may be a 5 minute flight but who is responsible for seeing the plane is in good working order? That the pilot has proper training? Does Anguilla have an equivalent of the FAA?

    To Rainbow International I say no thanks. I'll stick with a major airline to St Martin and the charter boat to Anguilla. At least I know how to swim.

  25. Top story in today's "Anguillian": "Access Flights From February 14". I say, "Wha?" Picture on the front page, Donna, Victor, Aidan and Mrs. Rose Hodge, all in living colour. Mrs. Rose Hodge of the famous Rainbow International Airways? Wha? They're flying here but don't have a plane? How can dis be?

    So I read the article. It's really long. It's full of obvious facts about how people need to be able to get to Anguilla. Did I mention how long it goes on? Slogans about access. Really boring. It just keeps going on and on. Mentions Rainbow. Mentions airlines that make announcements but whose flights never materialize. Doesn't mention Tourism Ministries who make announcements about vapourflights. Says GOA is solutions oriented but doesn't explain what the solutions are. This sounds like Jerome and Brent. We are spared Obama slogans, but it was still a lot to get through.

    Finally in the last paragraph we learn that Rainbow will be starting service from San Juan using a King Air A100. This is a little Beech twin engine turboprop plane that can usually can squeeze in up to nine passengers. What happened to the luxury Beech 1900D with the "executive service"?

    So Donna has announced one service commencing 14 February and her Ministry has announced another. Mrs. Rose Hodge has announced none. Which one are we supposed to believe and why are things handled in such a confused manner?

  26. My cousin works at Tourism. The Tsar is mad as hell. Not about how badly all this has been messed up but about who leaked the information to Mr. Mitchell.

    People are getting chopped in violent armed robberies and she's concerned with her reputation and how all these revelations about air access makes her look. What a joke this woman is.

    Watch your ass, Mr. Mitchell. She's out to get you.

  27. The last Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna Romanova (1872–1918), was the wife of Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of the Russian Empire. Like Anguilla's Tsarina, Alexandra was a fervent advocate of the divine right, and believed that it was unnecessary to attempt to secure the approval of the people. She was enthusiastically hated by nearly everyone.

    In 1918, she and her whole family were abducted and murdered.

    Nuff respect.

  28. Other than the initial flight with the travel agents, does anyone know if Rainbow has ever made a flight here, or talked with anyone who has flown on it?

    I assume they had to come in to pick up the travel agents for return to SJU, but I have heard nothing on any other flight or seen any posts from anyone who has traveled on it.

  29. The Anguillian Newspaper of this week is full of it, so to speak. 14 February was the inauguration. The service is three flights a day. Why are you all so disloyal as to question the word of our Tsarina?

    Perhaps we're all missing the point here. Kirby Hodge says this is all about service. Except for the part that's all about love for the country. The actual flights, this implies, are trivia.

    The Anguillian says "there are five staff members at the counter at Wallblake Airport". Even though we know they don't have a manned counter yet at all. But these are aviation experts, so it's probably beyond the understand of any of us.

  30. Maybe someone smarter than me can answer these questions:

    • I can fly return to SXM from Newark, NJ for $314 and from Chicago for $325, and take Shauna to AXA for $35 or Funtime for $60

    • I can fly to San Juan from Newark for $316 and from Chicago for $322 THEN pay $400 to Rainbow for a flight to AXA

    Why would I fly to San Juan so I could take Rainbow? And the fares are even cheaper to SXM on Continental or Jet Blue.

    Also, had a few drinks last night with a hotel owner who – along with 5 or 6 other hoteliers – met with Trudy this past week. In the course of the meeting, it was mentioned that she “was sure these hotels would help underwrite Rainbow”. These people looked at her like she was nuts! She couldn’t believe that everyone wouldn’t jump at the chance to support it.

    This guy was also at the Trade Show in NY a couple of weeks ago where it was introduced. He said AXA people were all excited about it. Travel agents couldn’t understand who would go to San Juan and spend an extra $400 rather than going direct to SXM. They thought the ATB was nuts! For the most part, they support Jet Blue direct to SXM as the best deal.

    This one is going to be interesting – and could put GoA over the edge (if they in fact are underwriting it, which I suspect.)

  31. La Tsarina made it clear in the House of Assembly that "we" (presumably ATB) have given Rainbow a load guarantee of some kind. No details have been revealed to the public. We now have what amounts to a national airline. Why not just call it "Anguilla National Airlines"?

    National airlines have been extremely costly to the governments of Cayman, Trinidad, St. Maarten, Nauru and others. They all lived to regret the experience. We can have one too. Maybe we can get the rich hotel owners to pay for it?

    This was a single vendor tender. This was justified because Kirby and Rose Hodge approached ATB, rather than the other way around, and because they are Anguillians. As we know, all Anguillians are honest with each other, care nothing for themselves, and only work to contribute to our development. Payment is strictly incidental. So it's all right.

    The Tsarina has made some references to "continuing to promote San Juan as a hub." Our primary direct carrier, American, uses San Juan as a hub, so I guess she feels she has to say that.

    Establishing a competing service from San Juan to Anguilla is like stabbing American in the back. Claiming Rainbow "complements" American and doesn't compete with them is an outright lie. This assumes that the people at American have the I.Q. of a zucchini. I don't know that such an assessment is accurate.

    So we have this ambivalent attitude toward San Juan, and others telling us what to think about it. And maybe if we can take enough business away from the late night Eagle it will be discontinued, and we can be totally dependent on Kirby. I remind you that when I inquired about Kirby I was told that "Kirby a slick boy." Is this great or what?

    PS: Fiscally, GoA is already quite close to being "over the edge." We don't need Donna Banks to push us over.

  32. I was talking to a retired Anguillian pilot today. He was quite riled up at what he considered Anguilla's disasterous and ill-prepared venture into using a charter plane company as our national airline. I cannot remember all his concerns. But these were some of them.

    One was that most US passengers carry life and other forms of personal injury insurance: the normal insurance policy contains a term that the policy is cancelled if a non-scheduled airline is used and injury or death occurs. Most US passengers would refuse to travel in a chartered plane, if they know that it is chartered and not scheduled.

    The FAA regulations are stricter on charter planes than on scheduled planes: passengers subject to more seaches and other forms of harassment, planes liable to be torn apart and delayed by dog handling drug searchers.

    Additionally, FAA regulations prohibit charter plane owners providing a scheduled service, which is what this Rainbow service is. The whole concept of this service is probably illegal.

    His only consolation was that it appeared to him that, after the inaugural flight, everthing came to a dead halt.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.