Turboprops and Politics

ATR_72-600_series_taking_off[1].JPGWhile most of the attention in the aircraft business this week has been focused on the draft deal reached by the OECD on new financing terms for export credit, it appears controversy is brewing in the Caribbean over an ATR order Caribbean Airlines placed earlier this year.

Caribbean orders nine ATR 72-600s with Armonia cabins

Mary Kirby, Philadelphia (27Sep10, 14:41 GMT, 282 words)

Trinidad and Tobago’s Caribbean Airlines has ordered nine ATR 72-600 turboprops from the European airframer.

The $200 million deal will make Caribbean Airlines a new operator of the type, and among the launch customers for the -600 series’ new Armonia cabin.

Italian design house Giugiaro Design developed the new cabin, which features cleanly-styled seats that have been ergonomically designed to ensure greater knee clearance; LED lighting and enhancements to the ceiling, side panels and overhead bins.

Caribbean Airlines’ 68-seat ATR 72-600s will also arrive equipped with the aircraft’s new avionics suite. Deliveries will begin in late 2011.

“With its fleet of brand new ATR 72-600s, this flag carrier will replace its current fleet of 5 Dash-8 300 aircraft, while adding new frequencies linking Trinidad and Tobago and surrounding destinations,” says ATR in a statement.

“In addition, several of the new ATRs will be operated in the route network of Air Jamaica, [which was] recently acquired by Caribbean Airlines.”

Since then Caribbean chief executive Ian Brunton has departed and now Bombardier is apparently protesting how the competition for the new order was handled.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday published this article today that has multiple references to a memo that Bombardier’s Americas sales director Ross Gray sent to the country’s Attorney General Anand Ramologan. 

Among the issues highlighed in the Newsday piece are:

 With respect to the procurement process, Gray said no Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued; no objective criteria was established regarding how competing offers would be evaluated; no time lines were established; preferential treatment/focus was given to ATR and by not running concurrent negotiations with ATR and Bombardier, CAL “likely did not achieve the most favourable terms and conditions possible.” Gray claimed the evaluation process was also flawed because CAL had not given due consideration to where the aircraft would be operated and CAL was evaluating its jets and turboprops as separate fleets rather than as one integrated fleet. Gray said the chronology of events leading up to the signing of the US$200 million deal between CAL and ATR on September 27 started in March 2007. Gray disclosed that at that time, under the former PNM government, he made Bombardier’s first presentation to CAL to purchase its Q400 turboprop plane.

“Up until November 2009, the pace of discussions with CAL was very slow with CAL showing little interest in replacing or augmenting the five Bombardier Q300s it currently operates.” Gray said meetings with CAL were infrequent and virtually all the meetings “were at our own initiative” except for a meeting in February 2008 which was organised at the request of Manning “to discuss the proposed acquisition of a Global business aircraft by CAL for Manning’s use.” Gray said that meeting took place at the Prime Minister’s official residence at La Fantasie in St Ann’s.

He added there were subsequent meetings regarding the acquisition of a private jet for Manning but he was not involved in those talks. On March 18, 2008, the then PNM government announced it was scrapping plans to buy this jet from Bombardier.

Stating that CAL never replied to proposals which Bombardier made in November 2008 for five Q400 and eight C-series planes, Gray said Bombardier made another presentation in January this year to then CAL chairman Arthur Lok Jack and then CEO Capt Ian Brunton. Gray said Brunton advised him in November 2009 that CAL planned to make a decision to replace its Bombardier Q300 planes “with new turboprop aircraft in the next 12 months.”

Bombardier states its correspondance “was confidential, and wasn’t meant to be distributed. We’re looking into how this happened”. Additionally, the airframer says: “Any correspondence of this nature is written in good faith. There are times where we feel compelled to express concerns over a selection process that appears to fall short of providing a level playing field.”  

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