Don’t Burn Our Bridges: The Case for Owning Airlines; by Holder, Jean S. University of West Indies Press, Kingston, Jamaica, 2010 A REVIEW by Sir Courtney N. Blackman Ph.D, June 25th 2012
In “Don’t Burn our Bridges”, arguably the finest Caribbean work of its genre for decades, Jean Holder combines exhaustive research, thorough analysis and keen insight in presenting a convincing case for government ownership of regional airlines. He begins with the observation that “countries in the developed world, like the US, Brazil and Australia, are very concerned about who owns and controls their airlines” … and “legislate against foreign ownership totally or prescribe the exact proportion of minority foreign ownership which is permissible.”
Holder’s judgments and recommendations are well seasoned by experience. No Caribbean person is more qualified to comment on this issue than he. After fourteen years of service in the Barbados diplomatic Corps, Holder served for thirty years as head of two regional institutions: first as founding CEO of the Caribbean Research and Development Centre and later as Secretary General of its successor, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). Since 2004 he has been Chairman of the Board of Directors of Leeward Island Air Transport (LIAT). In these roles Holder worked with every Minister of tourism from the more than 30 participating countries in CTO, interacted with numerous Prime Ministers and Ministers of Government, and engaged union leaders across the region. As Chairman of LIAT he acquainted himself with every aspect of Airline operations, among the most complex of any industry. Having visited every continent other than Antarctica and slept in some of the worlds finest hotels, your reviewer fancied himself somewhat of an expert on air transportation and tourism – until he read “Don’t Burn our Bridges”.
Although not a trained economist Jean Holder was never seduced by the now discredited “free market” ideology” inflicted upon developing countries by the IMF, World Bank and IDB over the last three decades, (i.e, that the “free market” will always produce superior solutions to those of governments). He therefore rejects the erstwhile World Bank position that Caribbean countries with their own national and regional carriers “do not need to own an airline to have a successful tourism industry, and that the funds used for subsidies … would be better used in other areas”. He recalls that the Dominican Republic, which had bought into that argument and closed their national airline, later concluded that a national airline was “vital to the growth of their tourism” and announced in May 2008 that its new airline, Air Dominica, would begin operations with flights to the US, Mexico and further afield. He also observed that Air Jamaica failed both when government owned and managed it and when it was owned and managed by the legendary entrepreneur “Butch” Stewart.