BRADES, Montserrat: One year after the opening of Montserrat’s Gerald’s Airport, WINAIR is accused of being a key factor in the failure of the country’s economic redevelopment and continues to prohibit residents from accessing essential health care.

Precisely twelve months to the day, the Montserrat Tour & Taxi Association (MTTA), along with over 1,300 members of the public, submitted a petition, to the Government of Montserrat, drawing their attention to “the plight of the members of the Association.”

On 12 July 2006, the MTTA’s petition identified several issues believed to have significantly contributed to the “detrimental livelihood of the economy and welfare conditions on Montserrat.”

The discontinuation of Montserrat’s Ferry Service is foremost on the list. According to the MTTA, the cessation of this vital service “has been extremely detrimental to the livelihood of MTTA members, as well as the hospitality industry in general, with a significant ripple effect across our local economy impacting, directly or indirectly, upon every individual and commercial enterprise in Montserrat.”

Unlike the expected thousands of tourist arriving “nineteen at a time”, as screenwriter Mr Chad Cumberbatch put it during the airport’s opening ceremony, MTTA says that, “Over the past several months there has been a steep decline in passenger arrivals at the Gerald’s Airport, with flights often arriving with a few if any passengers.”

Identifying tourism as the key to Montserrat’s economic redevelopment, the Association’s petition emphasized that, “Without an adequate transportation system, it is virtually impossible to achieve the desired and required increase in tourist arrival to the island.”

The most prominent problem associated with Gerald’s Airport is the present cost of air travel to and from Montserrat. The MTTA describes this cost as being “exorbitant and therefore prohibits the promotion of the vital day tour/short-term visitors and seriously hinders the growth of our tourism industry. The high cost of air travel also prohibits residents from obtaining dental and medical care that is not presently available on Montserrat.”

Responding to past accusations of elevated airfare, Mr Claudio Buncamper, WINAIR’s Director of Customer Service, indicated that he felt that the public of Montserrat should be aware of the fact that WINAIR is operating as a non-subsidized business. Hence, Montserrat’s consumers now have to shoulder these costs.

Managing Director for WINAIR, Mr Edwin Hodge, also concurred with Mr. Buncamper’s bottom line, when he informed attending media at a past WINAIR press conference that, “WINAIR is a business, and no business goes into business to lose money.”

This statement seems to justify the MTTA’s concerns about the only mode of travel to and from Montserrat. Ironically, the MTTA’s petition to the Government of Montserrat requesting a reintroduction of ferry services places the Government in a conflicting legal position, considering they are contractually obligated by WINAIR to refrain from subsidizing any other mode of travel to and from Montserrat.

However, the MTTA suggests that acquiring a private venture investor would be able to create an opportunity to expand their failing day-tour business by offering a twice-weekly route. Needless to say, the Association also suggested to the Government that renegotiations of the current contract terms needed to be initiated.

So the plight of Montserrat’s empty flights puts WINAIR’s future, as the sole service provider for Montserrat’s new Gerald’s Airport, clearly in question. Considering that over 29 percent of the country’s current population has voiced their public support by expressing dissatisfaction with the inadequacy of WINAIR’s current monopoly.