The Daily Herald writes that Gregory Hodge of East Caribbean Airline EastCair has charged national airline Windward Islands Airways International Winair with “stealing” business, project and economic feasibility plans commissioned by his company, to use as a basis for its new expansion. He intends to seek legal recourse to correct what he called this blatant copying. Hodge claims that after meeting with Secretary of Winair’s Supervisory Board Robert Budike in August 2012, about his company’s plan to work with Winair, including sharing the content of his business and project plans, Winair in a few months “magically” announced its new expansion plans.
EastCair was meant to be a small upstart airline for St. Maarten that had its sights set on new routes that were not being serviced from the destination. The intention, Hodge said, was to work with Winair, not against, as a lessor of ATR aircraft to prevent the national airline having to work with a foreign company. He said that during his meeting with Budike, Budike even had shared with him a version of a plan that Winair had, but had indicated that Winair had no development plan. Hodge said that they went over the plans together. He stressed that Winair was wrong for claiming credit for something it had not authored. The “hard work” behind the plans, Hodge said, was done by experts in the US, Europe and locally who were paid to do a job. He presented various reports, communications with government, the bank, SXM Airport officials, the legal incorporation of the company, etc.
Although he did not leave a copy of any of the plans with Budike, he said copies had been left with Members of Parliament (MPs) Frans Richardson and Patrick Illidge, with whom he had met in the Parliament building and who had informed him that due to an ongoing project funding from government could not be secured, but support could be had for the venture.
Hodge is of the opinion that considering all of the information he has and the fact that Winair apparently came up in a few months with a plan that had taken him and his company three years to finalise, “It’s impossible our plans weren’t copied. Route for route they are launching it in the same manner it was presented to government. Even the timeframe is the same, exactly the same.” Hodge said he was sure Winair would dispute his claims and he is challenging Winair to produce its business and project plans for the new expansion; a performance and economic analysis from aircraft company ATR (his company already has one); and an explanation as to why Winair is using Air Antilles Express under a wet lease agreement.
According to Hodge, Winair, as St. Maarten’s national carrier, was under the impression it could not obtain authority to service US territories (San Juan) as a result of St. Maarten’s civil aviation being downgraded from category one to two. “We told them, ‘Yes you can, you just don’t know how,’ and we used Air Antilles, the exact company with which Winair is now working, as an example,” Hodge said. How it could be done, he continued, also was outlined in EastCair’s business plan. “The company can opt to start its own operation by chartering another operator utilising the ACMI model, which can significantly reduce exposure to high charges with little activity during start-up to generate revenue. “So we informed them that if they work with another operator, and in this case it was exactly Air Antilles Express we used, they could acquire the authorisation to fly into the US. It’s like a temporary fix until civil aviation can retain its category one status. That information came from us. Winair can operate on authorisations they had prior to civil aviation being downgraded. It cannot request new authorisation,” Hodge said.
Etc. etc. I dare you to ask them for their business plan and what their development process is, and I guarantee you will see word-for-word it’s ours,” Hodge said.
Hodge also had contacted Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams to outline the project via letter. He received a response from the Prime Minister’s secretary requesting additional information, which his company provided. After that, he said, he has not heard back from the PM’s office. The PM is also the shareholder representative of Winair.
Winair Managing Director Michael Cleaver said in an invited comment that Winair’s management “does not know this Mr. Hodge and will restrict its comments to firmly denying having had any communications with him or from him on any topic. “What we have ascertained since being approached by your paper is the fact that supposedly the gentleman in question did go to see Robert Budike, the managing director of a company called PCMI N.V., that specialises in preparing business plans for companies and/or individuals. “Upon learning that Mr. Hodge was seeking help to put together a business plan for a locally-based airline, he was advised by Mr. Budike, who sits on the Supervisory Board of Directors of Winair, that the assignment could not be accepted by him, as it would be a conflict of interest. The conversation between Mr. Budike and Mr. Hodge ended there and no documents or further details were exchanged.” Cleaver said Winair, with its 50 plus years of experience in the airline business, was a reputable and no-nonsense airline that through its present management team had more combined experience and knowhow about how to research, tackle and execute new routes than most, if not all, other Eastern Caribbean airlines. “Committing plagiarism is not part of its MO [modus operandi – Ed.],” Cleaver said. Regarding the information Hodge would like Winair to produce, Cleaver said: “From a purely strategic business point of view, Winair will not divulge any more of its business and project plans for new routes than it deems necessary to ensure their success. Analyses of what type of aircraft it should or should not use, Winair considers proprietary internal information. “In order for Winair to benefit on short notice from the gap left in the market by the withdrawal from these routes by American Airlines Eagle, the airline chose to get into a readily-available short-term arrangement with another airline company, to allow more time to seek financing needed to obtain its own aircraft,” he concluded.