By Kerry Ezard
Peter Davies could have chosen to put his feet up and retire to his farm in the tranquility of south west England after a long international career in aviation, but instead he has taken on the unenviable challenge of turning around loss-making BWIA West Indies Airways
Davies, who was appointed chief executive of BWIA last month, is no stranger to warmer climes having spent three years working in Florida as chief operating officer of DHL Americas International between 1999 and 2002. Perhaps it was his three-and-a-half year stint in not-so-sunny Belgium as chief executive of SN Brussels Airlines that has tempted him to take up a position based in Trinidad and Tobago. Or perhaps he just likes a challenge.
Davies,56, admits that his first big challenge at BWIA will be to convince employees that the carrier can become profitable after so many years of losses. BWIA has not been profitable since 2000 and, prior to that, its only other profitable year was 1999.
But Davies is optimistic enough to believe that he can turn the airline around to reach the break-even point in 2008. He has already reversed a decision to change the airline’s name to BWIA Caribbean Airways, and has drawn up a new recovery plan, which has since been approved by BWIA’s board of directors.
The airline’s new boss will not be taking any strategic decisions until this summer, although he is not without ideas for steering the future direction of the airline. “We have to seriously review long-haul routes to Europe and we cannot afford to stand still on international expansion,” he notes, adding that the carrier must also continue to actively sell its Caribbean stronghold as a leisure destination.
Davies would like to see BWIA join an international alliance, although he admits that there is much work to be done before that can become a reality. “Inevitably companies such as BWIA will need to have an alliance with someone – it’s a question of whether it will be Oneworld, Star or SkyTeam.”
The next challenge facing Davies is to reach renegotiated collective bargaining agreements with BWIA’s unions, a vital element in securing the $250 million cash injection promised to the carrier last October by Trinidad and Tobago’s Government. “The meetings I have had so far with union leaders have been positive and they accept that things have to change, although there is still some way to go,” he says, adding that he hopes to complete this process shortly.
But the Government, which owns 97.5% of BWIA, is unlikely to invest any additional capital in the carrier, meaning that any major fleet renewal decisions will have to wait until the airline is privatised.
“The need to raise capital funds beyond the $250 million will be external and will follow the rigours of a public-private partnership,” says Davies. “We are unlikely to get any private investment while we are a state-owned company.”Although admitting that there is a temptation to retire to a life in the country on his English farm, Davies says his role at BWIA is “not necessarily my last airline job”. In the meantime, he plans to focus all of his energy on ensuring that his optimism for the carrier’s future filters down to its employees.
“My job is to create an environment where the people at BWIA believe that something positive can come out of this,” he says. “We require internal and external help and it all depends on the will of the people.”