Bahrain Air in crisis talks over licence
Manama, February 4, 2013
Bahrain Air, the private national carrier of the Kingdom, is in serious discussion with top government officials for getting its Air Operators Certificate (AOC) extended.
The airline hopes for a 'balanced and sensible' decision from the Civil Aviation authorities in this regard, said the airline CEO.
Richard Nuttall pointed out that time was running out for Bahrain Air as the carrier had permission to operate services only until the end of March, when its AOC gets expired.
"There is not much clarity in the entire issue. First the ministry clips our wings by reducing the AOC duration, then it refuses us additional routes and permissions to run extra flights during peak seasons like Eid and even the recent Gulf Cup when all other airlines were running packed schedules," Nuttall told the Trade Arabia News Service.
The operational licence, which was issued by Civil Aviation Affairs five years ago, has not yet been renewed, putting the airline in the risk of having to ground its entire fleet. The airline, he said, has only two months to obtain new airline accreditation.
"We got the new AOC only two weeks back and that too after completing the full audit. But instead of the standard one-year, the ministry has only given us the go-ahead for two months, citing that we owed them BD1.7 million ($462.7 million) in departure tax," he added.
The airline chief alleged that the civil aviation authorities were playing games with the future of the airline, citing technical clause in the manuals.
Nuttall said the ministry has tied all Bahrain Air-related issues to the outstanding amount. "We do agree that the dues need to be cleared at the earliest, but how on earth are we to do that if they deny us additional routes and permissions to run extra flights during peak seasons," he asked.
Calling upon the authorities to provide them a level-playing field, Nuttall said, "All that we are asking for is a little leniency from their side so that we can continue as normal and to be able to make money to pay them back."
When asked how he expected to pay the dues, Nuttall said: "Bahrain Air has the support of its shareholders and they are ready to pump in the funds provided the government give us an assurance in this regard."
Bahrain's Civil Aviation Affairs falls under the umbrella of the Transportation Ministry, which is headed by Minister Kamal Ahmed - who is also Economic Development Board (EDB) acting chief executive and a board member at Gulf Air.
In a report published in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), Nuttall argued this meant there was a conflict of interest.
"We have a minister who is on the board of our competitors," he said. "I bring it up because we (Bahrain Air) are being singled out and our air traffic rights are being cut.
"We have been singled out for a while, as we have made numerous charter requests during the peak seasons and all have been refused, while Gulf Air and other international carriers have been approved," the GDN report quoted him as saying.
He claimed Bahrain Air had lost up to BD4 million over the past three months alone because its requests to put on extra charter flights at peak periods, such as during the Gulf Cup last month and Eid, had been refused and its flight frequency and destinations were being limited.
The Transportation Ministry and Civil Aviation Affairs officials were unavailable for comment. - TradeArabia News Service