Airline blasts OCC claims

Cayman Airways has rejected claims by a government watchdog agency that problems with the airline’s communications system have not been resolved.

A statement released by CAL late Monday said the airline has reviewed all internal processes and emergency communications issues since a January report from the Office of the Complaints Commissioner criticised methods Cayman Airways used during 2007’s Hurricane Dean.

‘Improvements have been made and employees have been trained to execute the emergency plan in the event of a hurricane,’ the CAL statement read. ‘It is irresponsible to the public for the OCC to call into question Cayman Airways’ preparedness for the hurricane season.’

Complaints Commissioner John Epp agreed that the Cayman Islands’ national airline had made improvements in training and use of a new passenger ticketing system. Mr. Epp’s January report blamed a lack of staff training on the Sabre ticketing system for the overcharging of more than 100 passengers during the evacuation prior to Dean’s arrival.

That overcharging was a mistake, and not a deliberate attempt by the airline to gouge customers, the OCC report stated. Refunds have since been issued.

However, Mr. Epp’s office released a statement Monday that indicated it was not satisfied that the airline had created an effective communications policy for the next emergency.

The CAL policy lacked clarity and details, according to Mr. Epp. The January report indicated that the airline was too dependent on e-mail as a primary form of emergency communication and that staff seemed confused about the emergency communications process.

Cayman Airways officials questioned whether the OCC actually understood the operation and communications systems the airline has put in place. It said those plans are all detailed in the airline’s hurricane preparedness manual.

‘In these circumstances it is difficult for the company to accept the findings of the OCC,’ the CAL statement read.

In the event of an emergency, CAL’s plan states that it will use the standard chain of command for communications as long as is practical in the run up to a storm’s arrival. Off-island redundancy systems are also in place, according to the airline.

If both normal communications systems fail, two way radios, satellite phones and messengers will be used as necessary to relay critical information, the airline stated. Communications during a storm are organised and disseminated from the emergency operations centre at the airport fire station. All staff updates, flight additions and press releases will be released from the operations centre.

A previously approved, fixed-rate evacuation fare will be set automatically for evacuation flights.

‘The airline is confident that all necessary members of staff have been briefed and are aware of their roles and requirements during an emergency,’ the airline statement read. ‘Cayman Airways takes very seriously the need for clear communication, especially in times of emergency, and has been very proactive in ensuring that the airline is ready.’

OCC not convinced

Mr. Epp said Tuesday that his staff reviewed a copy of CAL’s hurricane manual and had expressed concern about the airline’s communication policy following that review.

‘The communication policy for emergency situations must be presented in a clear and complete manner so that it can be properly executed in a time of crisis,’ Mr. Epp said. ‘It is not enough for CAL to say it is a good and complete policy as it must pass external scrutiny, which in this case, it has not done.

‘It is troubling that CAL would say that constructive criticism is irresponsible especially when it is the mandate of the OCC to consider issues of maladministration in publicly funded entities and to recommend improvement.’

Mr. Epp said he was looking forward to receiving a detailed and executable emergency communications policy from Cayman Airways.

The complaints commissioner has previously noted that CAL’s policy does not detail how emergency communications would be sent and does not state how employees should access those communications when faced with dozens or even hundreds of waiting customers.

Also, Mr. Epp has said there is no apparent plan for how often priority communications would be made or how often employees should check for them.

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