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European firm defends safety of planes sold to Caribbean Airlines

Published:Sunday | December 19, 2010 | 12:00 AM

European aircraft manufacturer ATR has responded to suggestions by the People's Partnership Government in Trinidad and Tobago that there may be safety issues with its planes, insisting that they are safe.

The southern France-based turboprop aircraft maker said Wednesday that it has noted discussions here during the past couple of weeks about the acquisition by Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL) of nine ATR airplanes to renew its fleet, according to the Trinidad Express newspaper.

Approved by Cabinet and agreed to by ATR and Caribbean Airlines in September, the deal for the 68-seat ATR 72-600 aircraft is valued at US$200 million.

However, the deal and the firing of former CAL CEO Captain Ian Brunton are now at the heart of an impasse between the George Nicholas-led board and Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner.

Part of the discussions on the deal have elicited concerns about the safety of ATR aircraft and the need to review this in the context of CAL's choice of aircraft. ATR, however, did not take too kindly to the insinuation of such discussion.

"First of all, ATR cannot accept that the safety of its products is called into question when there is absolutely no technical or factual basis for this to be an issue," the company said in a statement.

"Furthermore, the fact that these safety concerns are raised after the joint media announcement of the agreement between CAL and ATR and the payment of commitment fees makes it even more damaging for the image of ATR and its products."

Brunton had negotiated the deal with ATR to boost Caribbean Airlines' fleet before he was fired by the CAL board of directors last month.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said, following a post-Cabinet meeting in Tobago last week: "An issue has arisen with respect to safety of the aircraft, the preferred aircraft, from the former board and the present board, is raising safety issues."

Government then agreed to hire an international aviation safety expert to evaluate the concerns of the CAL board.

CAL paid a deposit of US$1.8 million for the planes, which were planned for use on the airbridge between Trinidad and Tobago.

The airline planned to take delivery of the aircraft next year.