Learning the hard way
Not so long ago, an aircraft blew out both tyres on landing, blocking the runway forcing the George FL Charles Airport to close down while the authorities looked for my friend Sylvanus to solve the problem for them. Let me tell you about my friend Sylvanus …
I got to know Sylvanus more than twenty years ago when he worked as a badly paid unqualified apprentice at Helen Air. He seemed a bright lad, if somewhat too religious for my taste, so I decided to help him. First of all, he needed to become a qualified Airframe and Power Plant Engineer and for that he needed to go to school in the States, but even before that, he needed to learn to fly, so I taught him, so that when he arrived Up North he passed his tests with flying colours – excuse the pun – and became a pilot. Once back in St Lucia, he was faced with the realities of on-island business life. Instead of being overjoyed to have a qualified mechanic working for them – such qualified personnel were a rarity in those days – the company fired him when he asked for a wage that reflected his new qualified status.
Sylvanus worked his way through various small aviation-related enterprises until the day came when he decided to set up shop on his own, which was when his real troubles started. Business was brisk – the whole region suffers from a lack of qualified aviation mechanics. LIAT loses its pilots to bigger airlines as soon as they have attained the requisite experience and number of flying hours the big boys demand – but the realities of ‘doing business' soon sank in: satisfied customers were not necessarily good paying customers, and cash flow became a problem. Sylvanus learned the hard way that you cannot eat and drink promises
But you know, we'll soon be entering fantasyland again where promises will fill the air like swarms of locusts harvesting our votes at the next election. Maybe this time round they will offer “Even Better Days To Come”. Perhaps they'll promise 100,000 million dollars of investment to create new jobs. Recently I heard a polihack (my word for Rick's ‘political hack') espousing the achievements of her party by revealing that the country was in such dire straits that the government had been compelled to negotiate the biggest loan in the country's history. In other words, we are so broke that we have had to borrow more than ever before. The closer we get to bankruptcy, the prouder they get. What an achievement!
And so we come to the crux of today's matter. For several years Sylvanus beat his head against the stone walls of incompetence and unwillingness to help that surround our moribund political institutions. He spent many a day lobbying the then Minister of Aviation, Mr Chastanet for help with all sorts of aviation related projects, to no avail, so it was no surprise when, during the general election of 2011, he accepted the role of spoiler on SLP platforms in Soufriere and lambasted Minister Chastanet for his lack of support for local entrepreneurship especially among young, upcoming, enterprising Saint Lucians. Sylvanus became a staunch supporter of the SLP and its leader, swallowing hook, line and sinker the praise and gratitude showered upon him as a shining example of a young entrepreneur by the oh-so-grateful government-to-be for his critical intervention in a close race. It really seemed that he had helped win the election for the SLP. After the votes had been counted, Chastanet was history.
But then, after the election, Sylvanus discovered that the realities of business life in Saint Lucia extended even to political life. At first, his phone calls were accepted and notso-firm-promises were tendered. There were plans for air charter operations; partnerships were formed with U.S. flying schools to offer on-island practical and theoretical training to become pilots; there was even an apprentice scheme for airplane mechanics at the George Charles Airport; Hewanorra was to be blessed by an FBO (Fixed Base Operation) to provide aviation services to corporate jets; Sylvanus even set up a refuelling facility for light aircraft at the airport at Vigie, a sorely needed fuel resource in the region.
All these proposals and many more were forwarded to several ministers, almost all of whom never even responded. Sylvanus was not asking for money; all he wanted was recognition and some form of endorsement, but his approaches failed to elicit any support from government. In his struggles with the bureaucracy of ECCAA (Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority) in Antigua, Sylvanus stood alone, the forgotten aviation hero who had stood up and spoken out for the SLP about the treatment dealt to him by the former UWP Minister of Aviation. He has discovered the hard way that political promises are like the “cheque in the mail” – they are all illusions, smokescreens of lies and deceit.