Lack of beds and pilot shortage hitting airlift – minister
Airlines are cutting services to the island because of a lack of hotel beds, according to a government minister.
Wayne Furbert, the Minister of Transport, spoke out following the announcement by American Airlines that it was cancelling flights out of Miami for the summer.
That announcement prompted Susan Jackson, the Shadow Minister of Transport to claim that the Government was failing to build airlift capacity, which was putting the tourism industry in crisis.
But at a press conference yesterday, Mr Furbert said that a lack of hotel beds was deterring airlines from laying on more flights to Bermuda.
Mr Furbert, who has met with airline executives several times in recent months, said: “We have roughly 2,500 beds right now. In the good old days it used to be roughly 10,000, and so there’s a limited amount of beds.
“When they [the airlines] look at those numbers and the load factors we’ve had in the last couple of years – the load factors have not been as good as they would have liked.
“Those years we did have a larger supply of rooms, that’s probably one of the reasons why we’re down.”
The minister said that the bed shortage will be resolved once the Fairmont Southampton Princess Hotel reopens which he said could happen next year.
He said: “The Government is working hard to make sure that we get it open by 2024 – that’s the target that’s always been set.
“The PLP has set a target for the hotel to be back on board and we hope to be back on board at that time. We’ve also had a significant increase in vacation rentals too.”
Mr Furbert also claimed that cuts in service had been brought about in part because airlines were struggling to recruit pilots.
He said: “From what I understand from the airlines, as we come out of this period from pandemic, they’re having challenges themselves regarding pilots getting service on their own aircraft.”
Asked by The Royal Gazette if he was making excuses for poor air service, Mr Furbert replied: “We’re not making excuses. That’s the truth that they’ve told us and a lack of aircraft and they’re spreading them out.”
Mr Furbert also refuted Ms Jackson’s claim that tourism was in crisis because of poor airlift.
He said: “Crisis? No. Challenging? Yes. It’s not in crisis. We have airlines right now coming out of Newark, we’ve had increased aircraft coming out of LaGuardia, WestJet will soon be announcing further aircraft coming out of Canada.
“So the only big challenge is the Miami route, and ten years ago we never even had a Miami flight.
Mr Furbert also insisted that the loss of a Miami route would have little impact on tourism arrival figures because the service was used primarily by Bermuda residents.
Quizzed about efforts to attract other airlines to Bermuda, Mr Furbert was short on details. He also ducked questions on rumours that the Government is in negotiations with budget airlines.
He said: “We have discussions with many airlines. I said were talking to many airlines. Discussions are continuing.”
He also refused to answer questions about any subsidies or minimum revenue guarantees that the Government was offering to lure airlines here.
Asked to defend the Government’s track record on tourism, Mr Furbert replied: “There are many things the Government is working on.
“The Government’s goal is that in 2024 we’ll get the Fairmont Southampton back in. The Bermudiana Hotel … you’re well aware of a development in Warwick. There are many things we can point at that the Government has done.”
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