Having already burned through $10.5 million during the three months it was grounded and with a “very, very low” load factor since resuming operations, Bahamasair Chairman Tommy Turnquest said the airline needs to be more open about the financial challenges it’s now facing.
Bahamasair began commercial operations last month with regular daily flights into Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, but Turnquest said given the low passenger numbers on those flights, the airline is considering reducing its flight schedule.
“The numbers are very soft. The load factors are low, particularly as we are only going into Fort Lauderdale and Orlando now. We are going into Orlando every day once a day and it looks like we’re going to have to pull back to probably four times a week. We are going into Fort Lauderdale twice a day out of Nassau and out of Freeport we were going four times a week. And those numbers are very, very low,” he told Guardian Business yesterday.
“We’re looking at scaling that back until obviously Florida is able to get its COVID-19 situation under better control. We’re just not seeing the numbers and I guess with reason and so that has been a challenge. We haven’t really commenced operations into Miami and so that was okay.”
The same reigns true for its domestic flight schedule, which Turnquest said is equally low in bookings and passenger count.
“The family island domestic numbers are still not good. I mean surprisingly a couple times a week we get some good numbers on the Nassau, Abaco route, we get fairly good numbers on the Nassau, Rock Sound route. But you know there is some domestic competition and obviously persons look at time of travel and cost of travel,” he said.
“We’re looking at that. Because of the numbers we’ve combined San Salvador and Long Island and that’s had some impact I think, because persons going to Long Island direct, they have another option without going on the circular route with San Salvador. Bahamasair is struggling financially and these are rough times.”
Bahamasair Chief Executive Officer Tracy Cooper estimated last month that the airline is set to lose 20 percent in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Asked if he believes it’s worth it to resume operations at such a volatile time in the global travel market, with fewer people traveling to avoid contracting or spreading the deadly COVID-19 virus, Turnquest said, “That’s a very good question and there are a couple of schools of thought with regards to that.
“One school of thought is you can just wait to start up, but Bahamasair has a natural responsibility to provide a transit system within the islands. We are mandated to continue. We didn’t lay anyone off for the three months so we just burned $10.5 million, $3.5 million a month for part of March, all of April and all of June. That’s a lot.”
He added that although the airline secured a “few thousand dollars” from the first batch of repatriation and charter flights last month, it’s not enough to make a dent in the financial woes the company is facing.
“We started operating and we did a couple of repatriation flights, so we got a couple of thousands of dollars on those. We did a couple of charters and so we made a couple of dollars on those. We did the charter into Mexico, which became the subject of much controversy, but for Bahamasair from a commercial point of view, it worked out kind of well for us… But, you know, I mean, it’s a struggle. And I think we need to be more open with the challenges we face financially. This COVID-19 situation is not easy,” he said.
“I think we just need to reduce some of the flights that we do. It can’t be that the flights are going to be convenient for everybody. Persons are going to have to, in my view, schedule their travel around when Bahamasair is able to fly or when other airlines are able to fly. We can’t have the convenient schedule that we are known to have. We’ve gone to some islands with 14, 15 passengers on a 50-seat plane. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that doesn’t make any money.”
Turnquest said the other school of thought is that operations have to start at some point and there will be growing pains initially whenever it is done.
“And so I caution all that I said earlier and put it against that backdrop that we have to begin to operate. Now what I would like to see more of is that we ought to recognize that we don’t have many customers, we ought to focus more on doing our jobs better and providing better service. You know people talk about Bahamasair, that it’s not always on time. That upsets me, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be on time every single flight. That’s what I’m focusing on,” he said.