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May 20, 2020

Public Transportation Takes a Hit, Tropic Air Faces Massive Layoffs

The once booming tourism industry has been hardest hit as COVID-19 continues to wreck havoc to the economy.  On Tuesday night, we reported that Tropic Air is cutting staff; today the local airline confirmed that it has informed the Ministry of Labour that it is letting go as much as sixty percent of its employees, at least two hundred persons, including some who have been with the company for long years. The difficult decision came after projections showed that the airline would take another two years to get back on its feet even when the economy rebounds. Over at Maya Airlines, measures are also being taken to cut down operational costs and water taxis are also scrambling as the transportation sector struggles to survive. Here is News Five’s Isani Cayetano with a report.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Public transportation is in a dizzying tailspin, despite the resumption of domestic travel by air, sea and land.  Local airline companies, including Tropic and Maya, as well as water taxis, the likes of San Pedro Belize Express and Ocean Ferry, depend heavily on tourism for most of their revenue.  The sharp economic downturn amid the coronavirus crisis, has left a gaping hole financially that has resulted in numerous layoffs and a restructuring of their respective operations.  On Tuesday, Tropic Air was forced to terminate sixty percent of its workforce countrywide.  Alexander Tescum had been working with the company for almost three decades.


Alexander Tescum

Alexander Tescum, Former Employee, Tropic Air

“I was a cargo agent for twenty-seven years and I get wahn sudden letter yesterday.  Mein, it was devastating.  When ah tell yoh, yoh feel like yoh get stab eena yoh chest and ih mek yoh feel depressed mein, da soh sudden.  But yoh cyant blame the company cause no money di come een, how dehn expect fi pay yoh.”


Since March, the airline company, founded in 1979 by John Greif III, has been paying its employees a hundred and fifty dollars weekly.  With its reserves quickly drying up, a letter went out on May nineteenth to two hundred and twenty employees, informing them that they had been relieved of their duties.


Voice of: Former Employee, Tropic Air

“I went to check my email and when I opened my email I got to see a termination letter from Tropic Air where I worked and literally that just throw off my whole day because Tropic Air was a company well, I enjoyed working at and like how I am a single parent I really depended on that job for helping me throughout my bills and other stuff that I planned.”


Under the most recent relaxation of regulations under the state of emergency, Belizeans are now allowed to travel across the country.  Despite their newfound freedom, local flights booked by Belizean passengers only make up three percent of Tropic’s operations.  A majority of its revenue stream came from visitors.


Alexander Tescum

“I noh know how ah wahn tek life from ya go ahn now because da something weh I use to, twenty-seven years, all my life I spend back deh and I mi really love it, serious, serious.  But I noh know weh wahn happen now eena di future, if I wahn carry on, but I will survive with God, he will provide.”


Tescum is optimistic that the economic situation will turn around soon enough.  For his former colleague in the cargo section, her reality is gloomy since she is the sole breadwinner and is raising a three-year-old son alone.


Voice of: Former Employee, Tropic Air

“From the time we were sent home we were getting a salary of one-fifty every Tuesday whereby I used that to pay out most of my bills and so forth and when I get that or when everybody or me, myself, opened my email and got that termination letter, it literally just throw off my whole day because for me as a single parent it’s really, really hard because I noh really have nobody weh I could run to like eena da form deh.”


Selvyn Avila

That reality is equally bleak in the water taxi sector.  Today is the first day that Ocean Ferry is resuming its runs to San Pedro and Caye Caulker and those scheduled departures have been cut down to three runs daily.


Selvyn Avila, Floor Supervisor, Ocean Ferry

“We’re just starting, today is our first day of reopening.  This COVID-19 has come and really had an impact on all of our lives, on the economy, our families.  But right now we are just starting from way down, step by step we‘re going to be growing stronger and then we‘re going to be opening more runs.  At the moment we only have three runs for Caye Caulker and three runs for San Pedro.”


Isani Cayetano

“What has business been like for you guys today since you‘re only just reopening?”


Selvyn Avila

“Well business is right now slow.  I think nobody can say that they have started with a right foot.  We had like three or five people going and coming back from San Pedro and Caye Caulker.  Hopefully, we’re getting there.”


It is arguable that the layoffs at Tropic Air represent the largest number of employees in the private sector being sent home.  According to Steve Schulte, Tropic’s C.E.O., it will take roughly two years for the company to return to eighty percent of its operational capacity, notwithstanding the fact that it will need significant financial assistance in moving forward.  Just a few months ago, the airline introduced a new aircraft that was set for flights outside of the country; Schulte says it is yet to make a revenue flight. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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