A Report for FIBS by Sue Gyford (SG)
Todayís programme features an interview with Charles Roberts (CR). Charles was in the Falklands in mid December, researching the potential for a business venture that could make a big difference to the Islands. He and his business partners want to set up a twice-weekly air link between MPA and Montevideo in Uruguay. With feelings running so high between the Falklands and Argentina on flights to Chile, he thinks he may have hit on a viable alternative, or additional route. First of all, I asked him to explain a little about his own background.
CR: I was born in Argentina of a British father. My father came out from England in 1924 to work as a civil engineer to work on the British owned railways in Argentina. My father married locally and we were pretty much kept up in a British atmosphere at home. I was sent to St. Georgeís College, where I knew a lot of Falkland Islanders had gone. And, right after my education I had been in Airlines. I had been exactly 43 years in Airlines Ė in various foreign Airlines. I would mention Pluna, a Uruguayan Airline, Sabana, Canadian Pacific, and lately I represent both Pluna and Varig.
SG: And when you say Airlines, thatís business or as a pilot?
CR: No. For the first 15 years of my experience, I have been as an operational Ė I was at airports. In fact, I had been a station manager in four Airlines. But lately, I have been on the commercial side.
SG: And, this is your first visit to the Islands?
CR: This is my first visit and I have enjoyed it immensely.
SG: Obviously, as you say, you are representing an airline. What is the proposition thatís brought you here?
CR: There are a group of us that are involved in this project. The mentor is Captain Ronnie Daintree.
SG: And a group of individuals or?
CR: Individuals. We donít exactly represent our company. We represent sort of a sporting venture. I will tell you something about Ronnie Daintree Ė Ronnie Daintree is almost 80. He joined very young, he joined in the 2nd World War he joined the Royal Airforce Voluntary Reserve. He was trained as a bomber pilot and he served in India and Burma. And eventually he was demobilised and he returned to Argentina and most of the time he was a pilot in the Argentine Flag Carrier, Aerolineas Argenttinas. He has logged 29 Thousand flight hours. And, heíd been on to me for quite a while asking why we didnít do something to get a good, faster link to the Falklands.
So, we obviously looked at the map and realised that Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo were obvious hubs to connect to the Islands because the flight time in a jet is 2 hours and 40 minutes. And, of course, you look at Montevideo, itís been the traditional transit point for Falkland Islanders. So, we have been into the question operationally, commercially and the type of aircraft and the costs.
And, obviously, there are certain political questions have arisen, which we knew vaguely about but now we have gone into deeply. But you realise we are businessmen, Airline men really, and we feel that we feel the political situation is handled by Governments at a higher level and there are people who are properly trained for that.
SG: Perhaps we could look at the two sides one at a time. First of all, business and then politics. In terms of business, you think this is actually viable proposition for you?
CR: I personally think itís a viable proposition. We worked out costs. I dare not give you the price of a ticket. I mean, I would really be lying to you because I had to dome down to do research on the local costs, customs clearance, landing fees, fuel costs, etc.
SG: And you are talking about a regularly scheduled flight?
CR: We are talking about a regular scheduled flights that would carry passengers, cargo and airmail.
SG: Would this be weekly?
CR: We thought of Ė we realised that people here probably donít want to stay a week but three or four days so weíd have to make a further study but the idea is to have two flights a week.
SG: What have you found here in terms of logistics and costing?
CR: Well, Iím still digesting all the figures. You realise landing fees all over the world are extremely expensive and we have to see that with respect to our costs. I realise, obviously, costs are high in an airport where you only have one or two flights a week or you have a charter flight now and then. Obviously, it isnít like other international airports where you have a lot of flights and therefore your costs are reduced, where you have a permanent staff of customs and immigrations.
SG: And, you have the available aircraft to use on this?
CR: Yes. At the moment we are thinking in terms of a Fokker 100, which carries about 100 seats and would be registered in Uruguay Ė a Uruguayan Company Ė and would be flown by Uruguayan Personnel.
SG: If you go back and your colleagues are all satisfied with what you found, what would be the time-scale? When would you be hoping to start?
CR: The aircraft is almost available. And, of course, we realise itís not that easy. We have come across, as we say, the political situation, which we are looking into very carefully. And, Iíve learned a lot on this trip Ė things that I just didnít know.
SG: Absolutely. Well, as you say, flights are a very contentious issue, particularly at the moment. Presumably the advantage of this route is that you avoid using Argentine Airspace.
CR: Well, yes and no. I mean, internationally, whether you like it or not, if any aircraft can go into a problem, if it canít land in Stanley because of bad weather, it will have to divert somewhere. Obviously the nearest is Argentina. Itís something we are going to look into very carefully. Obviously, the Argentine authorities are not going to ignore the existence of a new link from Uruguay to the Falklands.
SG: But you would need permissions from them. It would be permissions from Uruguay and from this end in order to make the journey.
CR: Right. There are two permissions, obviously the permissions of the Uruguayan Government and the British Government Ė or the local Government here.
SG: OK and what sort of feedback have you had from local people in businesses? Are they keen to see this link?
CR: Yes. People are delighted, of course. And, I would like to make it very clear, I mean, LanChile have done a very good job. And, of course, we Airline people will stick together. We are like a, you know, like a clan. (he laughs) And, I wouldnít like to feel at any time that I am sort of being derogatory about LanChile. Itís an excellent Airline, has very good service, excellent aircraft and, of course, I like the Chilean people very much. But this is like anything in the free enterprise world. You can want to do something and as I say, we are interested in producing this air link which is very much more logical than going around the world. I mean, crossing the Continent twice to get here.
SG: Where does your airline fly through at the moment?
CR: Wa well we are building it. I represent a Brazilian and a Uruguayan but this could be an air link which we would probably net Brazil, Uruguay, and the Falklands.
SG: So it essentially would be a brand new link?
CR: A brand new link.
SG: And a brand new Company?
CR: A brand new Company, yes.
SG: Presumably once people arrived in Montevideo they would be able to transfer on to international flights?
CR: Exactly. That is the idea. We are going to study our schedules in such a way that anybody going northbound would be able to connect to whatever Airline they want to go to any part of the world. And, southbound likewise. You know we will be able to connect Uruguay to the Falklands without having to overnight or, which, of course, always increases everybodyís costs.
SG: And, what happens next. You are heading back out on Saturday.
CR: I am heading back, I am going to meet up with all my friends and we are going to study this very carefully. Iíve got a lot of ideas in my head, which I still have to process. And, I think I will be back again, realise there is obviously a problem we have slightly opened up, which is the political side of it.
SG: What difficulties do you face on the political side?
CR: Something we donít know really. I am terribly optimistic because after all, we are not doing anything strange just we are in business and we are just building a link. Thereís nothing Ė we are not, shall we say, we donít want to get involved politically.
SG: Have you met with representatives of the Government while you have been here? Did you just meet with private individuals?
CR: I have met with private individuals and representatives of Government and all have been very kind and, I must say, they have been super. I have never been received so well. I never expected such an excellent reception. And, I would like to thank all the Falkland Islanders. I have never seen such warm people and I felt really at home, you know, home away from home.
(100X Transcription Service)