The CEO of Bahrain Air has accused the country’s civil aviation authorities of discrimination after it refused to extend the airline’s licence.
The airline publicly revealed its dispute with the Minister of Transportation Kamal Ahmed in a statement issued on its website and called on the government to establish a “neutral committee to investigate the arbitrary decisions and actions taken against it by the Minister of Transportation”.
Ahmed also is acting chief executive of the Economic Development Board (EDB) and a board member of Bahrain Air’s key competitor, the national carrier, Gulf Air.
Bahrain Air CEO Richard Nuttall told Arabian Business Ahmed’s dual positions were a conflict of interest.
Nuttall said Bahrain Air had been unfairly penalised because it owed about BD1.7 million (US$462.7 million) in departure tax incurred during the civil unrest last year, when all airlines were temporarily ordered to cancel flights.
The airline had passed the appropriate tests to be issued with a new licence in January but instead of the standard 12 months, the Minister of Transport had limited the new licence to two months and restricted the company’s flight schedules.
Nuttall said without the full flight schedule the company was unable to repay the debt and it risked being grounded when its licence expired on March 31.
He said while Gulf Air had reduced its scheduled flights the move had been voluntary.
“We have not received the same treatment as Gulf Air ... we’ve been discriminated against,” Nuttall said.
“They want us to pay some money upfront, so they’re reducing our schedules. We’re not in a position to pay that money until we have our schedules [and] our revenue coming in.”
Nuttall said the company, which has four aircraft and usually services 17 destinations, was only operating at 75 percent of its normal capacity.
“Our revenue has reduced by about BD4 million over the last four months, [because] we’ve done less flying.
“That’s close to US$2 million added to our bottom line and that’s money that has to be funded by shareholders – it takes a long time to pay [back].”
Nuttall said despite the public spat with the minister he intended to continue to negotiate until a payment deal could be reached.
“That’s the goal and that’s what we fully expect to do,” he said.
“We’re trying to resolve issues [but] it’s come to a stage where we thought we needed to escalate it to the public.
“We don’t want to antagonise the situation. We need to face these people, we need to talk and then we want to settle down.”
The Ministry of Transport has been contacted for comment.