In an appearance before the Commission of Inquiry (COI) recently, Smith said the party dropped the proverbial ball in not tendering the project.
“Yes. And Commissioner, I actually agree. And in 20/20 hindsight, yes, we probably slipped up there — but, you know, I mean, it’s easy for us to Monday morning quarterback it and everything, which I accept there is — I could see it as a deficiency. But I guess we were so much in a rush to go and get the air access established, that we probably dropped the ball on that. I will take that on the nose,” Smith told the COI.
Smith, however, claimed that this did not amount to a complete bypassing of the tender process.
A full criminal investigation was launched after the previous National Democratic Party (NDP) administration dumped $7.2 million into the airline to facilitate direct flights between the BVI and Miami, USA back in 2016. The BVI Airways project, however, failed to ever get off the ground.
The former Financial Secretary explained to the COI that the project was never tendered because there were several “technical challenges” that prevented this from happening.
“The technical challenges I could think on: maybe only three aircraft that could do that … one of which was used, and another one which, I think, is the ERJ 170,” the former FS said.
He said purchasing one of those models would have been too expensive at the time and the economics would not have worked out.
“There is a funny combination between new aircraft that could barely get it done, that none of the established airlines that would be interested in our route flew. Another issue of the aircraft that could do it were old and inefficient,” Smith explained further.
He added: “And we also knew that the major airline, American Airline especially, wanted to be in the BVI but because it didn’t have the current aircraft and the fleet, and I guess for business reasons won’t be prepared to buy anything to do it. We knew that it was not a very — commercially, it wasn’t a very attractive venture.”
Smith also told the COI that the BVI Airways project was only ever meant to be a temporary solution.