Sixteen months after T&T closed its international borders to both national and foreigners, all systems are in place this morning to expect the first flight since border restrictions have been lifted. The 8.40 am BW607 Caribbean Airlines flight from Georgetown, Guyana is expected to arrive at the Piarco International Airport with 154 passengers.
This incoming flight will be one of two to arrive today. The other is from Dominica.
Three Caribbean Airlines flights are also expected to depart – one to JFK Airport, New York at 2.50 pm, carrying 154 passengers and two to Barbados each holding a capacity of 68 passengers.
The Barbados flights will leave at 12.05 pm and 4.00 pm.
For the first time, the airport will be a hub of activity with passengers who would have to follow strict health guidelines, as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
The country closed international borders to all travellers on March 22, 2020.
Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan who will be at the airport this morning to witness the arrival of the Guyana flight told Guardian Media “the Government is very happy that we can reach a point where we can reopen our borders.”
However, he warned “there would be some sort of inconvenience if you want to term it like that because we have to maintain social distancing. There are a lot of protocols that have to be followed. My information is that they will bring out additional staff to ensure that passengers comply with social distancing.”
Health guidelines, he said, will be enforced to ensure our population is protected under the circumstances.
“Traveling at this time is a choice and safety is the Government’s priority.”
With the minimal operations at the airport for the past 16 months, Sinanan said the airport’s “revenues would have been significantly impacted. The last count I check was maybe about 95 per reduced.”
In 2020, national carrier Caribbean Airlines (CAL) took a major hit from the pandemic after suffering $738 million in losses.
By September 2020, the carrier had to temporarily lay off close to 600 employees in T&T and Jamaica for three months and reduce salary reductions for eight months, as the airline had hoped to save around $1.6 million a month.
Over 100 pilots also agreed to a 57 per cent cut in incomes for three months for the airline’s survivability.
As the cash-strapped airline struggled to stay afloat, last month CAL announced that 450 of its workers will be sent home.
“I don’t know of any airline that made a profit during the pandemic. I can’t speak for CAL. But what I can say CAL is an integral part of the airport. They are a main tenant of the airport, obviously, the shutting down of the routes CAL would have suffered and by extension, the airport would have suffered.”
With flights now back on track, Sinanan said they expect a better financial position.
“You have to recognise that an airport is something that you cannot just shut off. You have to ensure that all your equipment is maintained to international standards.”
Sinanan advised that restaurants at the airport will be closed until Monday.
“I don’t foresee any problems developing. The airport is well-organised. They have been preparing for the reopening. So I really don’t see any major challenge at the airport tomorrow. We anticipate no major hiccups.”