(CNS): Many of Cayman Airways’ former directors are getting free unlimited flights for themselves and their immediate family as a reward for serving voluntarily on the airline’s board. Paul Tibbetts, the airline’s chief financial officer, told the Public Accounts Committee last week that around 100 former directors who served before 2009 are able to fly on the national flag carrier free of charge in confirmed seats whenever they want. Those who served after that year get to travel free during their tenure and for another two or three years afterwards, depending on how long they served.
Tibbetts and the airline’s CEO, Fabian Whorms, appeared before PAC on Thursday to discuss the financial reports for Cayman Airways Ltd (CAL) for the 2014 and 2015 financial years.
For some time there has been criticism of the flight benefits given to former directors, with people suggesting the airline’s losses are compounded by the number of free seats that are given away. Tibbetts told the committee that around 250 tickets are used by board and retired board members during the course of a year. He said that the seats are economy but when there is room they can be upgraded.
CAL staff and dependents can also travel free on standby or purchase confirmed seats at a discount. Depending on how long staff members serve, they are given different packages of flight benefits, while retired staff members can purchase confirmed seats at a 25% discount or travel standby for a small fee.
Tibbetts said all airlines give flight benefits and it is a way of improving the package CAL can offer staff without the airline incurring any direct additional costs, as he explained why it is listed in the annual report as an “immaterial” cost. He stressed that staff only travel free when there are empty seats that the airline could not sell anyway; when a flight is full they cannot travel.
He said the airline was unaware of any staff members making fictitious reservations to ensure that there were empty seats when they wanted to fly, and that if staff were caught doing that, they would lose their flight benefits. But he said there were checks and balances throughout the booking system that would make it very difficult for anyone to get away with doing that.
During the course of the committee meeting the members heard that CAL has finally begun to make an operating profit but it is still reliant on the more than $15 million government subsidy each year to support certain routes and cut fares to attract tourists . In addition, the government has been injecting around $6 million in cash each year to help the airline pay a catalogue of debts, including bank loans taken out to cover the operating cost shortfalls over previous years and to try and reduce its more than $20 million debt to the Cayman Islands Airports Authority.
The PAC will reconvene next Wednesday with CAL chairman of the board, Phillip Rankin. After he failed to attend last week’s hearing PAC Chair Ezzard Miller issued a summons.