What's the Real Deal With American Eagle?

Feb. 26, 2005 — It seems that our new attorney general has sided with our lieutenant governor in promoting the interests of one business over its competitors and favoring secrecy over sunshine.
At issue: the lieutenant governor striking a questionable deal with American Eagle on flights between St. Thomas and St. Croix without disclosing a thing about it to the electorate.
At a press conference Tuesday, Alva Swan, recently appointed attorney general, said the government’s contract with American Eagle cannot be fully revealed because it contains "trade secrets."
"We cannot disclose trade secrets; it's as simple as that," Swan said. Lt. Gov. Richards added, "We must obey our own laws, shouldn't we?"
Let us get this straight. The fine print in the V.I. government's sweetheart deal with American Eagle Airlines, which was not entered into with the Legislature’s knowledge, much less consent, and which is paid for by taxpayer funds, is a "trade secret" and therefore exempt from the public records act?
Swan and Richards are muddying the real issue, which is that the taxpayer-financed contract was initiated and completed secretly – and that the lieutenant governor is still trying to hide the terms.
What could the "trade secrets" possibly be? We think they are red herrings, waved before the public to avoid revealing how much this seemingly unnecessary service will cost the public.
Richards says the deal was "not entered into blindly," but did not deny it was entered into at the exclusion of other competitors. To make things worse, it does not even provide cheaper fares for the passenger! Tickets cost $60 one-way and $120 round-trip. Government officials get a discounted rate of $54 one-way. Compare that to Cape Air's current rate of $50 one-way and $100 round-trip, or Seaborne's $85 to $120 round trip!
Even more skewed is the "minimum revenue requirement" for each round trip, requiring the V.I. government – again, read taxpayers – to pay the difference if those minimum passenger numbers are not met. Just who is getting the best deal here? Not the consumer, but American Eagle. And in some weird way, politics may have been served as well –or might have been if the subsidy had never been revealed.
In another twist we wonder how Richards, who tried to keep a functioning air carrier – Caribbean Sun Airlines – from doing business in the territory just over a year ago suddenly sees the value of reviving American Eagle inter-island flights when two commuter airlines are sufficiently serving the same route.
We think the herrings are beginning to smell bad.

Editors note:We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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