THERE appears to be a falling out between the Civil Aviation Department in Saint Lucia and the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) which is the agency that serves as the aviation accident and incident investigation unit for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
It’s a falling out that is about two years in the making but which today has reached a boiling point, one where the Department is now talking boldly of severing ties with ECCAA.
Concerns over a possible split from ECCAA became known in the first half of last year when Civil Aviation Minister Guy Joseph spoke of ECCAA’s refusal to accede to requests from the Government of Saint Lucia over aircraft licenses.
Joseph, in May of last year, told reporters that government continues to have challenges with ECCAA in acquiring those licenses even as the number of airlines interested in operating in the region continues to grow.
“Some time ago Saint Lucia had made the pronouncement that if it could not get matters rectified through ECCAA, Saint Lucia would consider pulling out of ECCAA and align itself to another agency that would offer the same service. We have not ruled this off the table completely, but we are working as best as we can with ECCAA to resolve this matter,” Joseph said last May.
It seems that the matter has not been resolved because Joseph this week made it clear that working with the ECCAA is a major headache.
“We are in the process of reviewing our relationship with ECCAA and exploring all other possibilities of realigning ourselves to a civil aviation authority that would better respond to the needs of Saint Lucia,” the Minister told reporters.
Joseph said that while he understands that Saint Lucia is part of the arrangements made under the OECS umbrella, Saint Lucia is encountering “challenges in getting basic things done at that level”, meaning the ECCAA level.
“As we move forward, we will be giving you a lot more information because we are exploring other possibilities,” Joseph added.
Even the Permanent Secretary in the Department of Civil Aviation, Claudius Emmanuel spoke about the government’s dissatisfaction with ECCAA saying that the “level of representation from them (ECCAA) has not met with our requirements in terms of Saint Lucia receiving the sort of quality representation we believe we deserve as a member.”
“We have concerns about the ability of that organization to represent us at the level of clarity and taking into consideration advancing our interests as a sovereign country,” Emmanuel said.
Another matter infuriating the Civil Aviation Department is news that the ECCAA has been downgraded from a category one entity to a category two entity. Minister Joseph said he is not getting clarification from ECCAA on the downgrading issue.
“Our understanding, or from what is happening, is that we have been downgraded from a category one to a category two which has implications for airlines coming into Saint Lucia. When you are category two it has implications for the cost of the insurance for the airlines coming here. So while Saint Lucia is on a growth path, as far as you can see, the number of airlines coming and stay over visitors and all of that, ECCAA continues to operate in a manner as if it is a power and an entity in and of itself, in that it does not consider Saint Lucia has sourced out its requirements for civil aviation,” Joseph said.
“As I speak to you we have been trying to convene a meeting of all ministers of civil aviation within the OECS, which is part of ECCAA to see if at that level, as ministers of civil aviation, we can get an update because I will not speculate on the reasons for the downgrade,” Joseph said, noting that for ECCAA to have been downgraded it must have failed some basic tests.
“Because ECCAA is downgraded every country under ECCAA is downgraded. So, whether we met all the requirements and one person was in breach that caused the downgrade it affects all of us in the process,” Joseph reiterated.
He said his ministry had raised several of the recurring issues with ECCAA over time but to no avail. “We saw these signs. We engaged the OECS Director and legal person to have discussions with them about our concerns long before news of a possible downgrade,” Joseph said.
According to Minister Joseph, among the issues his ministry has with ECCAA, one has to do with ECCAA bypassing the Civil Aviation Authority in Saint Lucia to deal directly with airlines.
“It’s by way of passing we would hear what is happening. I had to write to them (ECCAA) and say there is a Civil Aviation Ministry and at least we ought to be copied on the correspondence so we can know what is going on,” Joseph said, stating that Saint Lucia is awaiting official notification of the downgrade, a matter that would now see Saint Lucia doing remedial work to get back to the level of a category one country in aviation circles.
This reporter contacted ECCAA’s head office in Antigua and Barbuda for comments on Joseph’s charge of a downgrade from category one to category two and other charges, particularly the rocky relationship between ECCAA and the Civil Aviation Department in Saint Lucia, to no avail. Calls were made to ECCAA’s Director Donald McPhail and Craig Walter, who oversees the Finance and Administration Division. Both gentlemen were said to be in a meeting prior to press time yesterday. Calls were also made to the ECCAA office both Thursday and yesterday.
It was in 2006 that the ECCAA obtained category one status, a classification which was expected to open the way for regional airlines to increase service to the United States in terms of flights and cities served, thus improving the earning potential of the tourism-based islands of the OECS.