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Scores Of Bahamians To Lose Jobs In Airline Pullout - 1-, 2004 – 27: 1
Nearly 70 Bahamians employed with Laker Airways Bahamas Ltd. are expected to be laid-off indefinitely, now that the airline's 10-year-plus charter contract with the Royal Oasis Resort has ended.

FREEPORT, Grand Bahama - Laker Airways Bahamas Ltd., the airline that provided over 30 percent of Grand Bahama's airlift, is now forced to restructure its operations and end service to Grand Bahama.

Falcon Air Express, based in Miami Florida, will now take over Laker's northeastern routes via a six-month charter contract with the Grand Bahama Vacations tour company, according to the airline's Executive Vice President Jose Lazaga.

Several of Laker's flight attendants refused to work flights heading out of Grand Bahama on Sunday morning in protest of the impending layoffs, forcing flight cancellations and leaving hundreds of passengers stranded at the Grand Bahama International Airport (GBIA).

Esper Major, general manager of Grand Bahama Vacations, told the Bahama Journal that close to 280 passengers were stranded at GBIA.

Some of those passengers left Sunday night, while others were forced to remain in Freeport overnight and were re-scheduled to leave Monday morning.

Late last year, the Royal Oasis Resort terminated its charter contract with Laker due to financial constraints, according to resort Public Relations Director Donald Glass.

Laker Bahamas Ltd. was formed in the early 1990's to provide exclusive airlift to the Royal Oasis Resort (formerly the Princess Hotel), but through the Grand Bahama Vacations tour company, the airline expanded to providing open airlift to the island.

Several days after the contract termination on December 16, former airline spokesperson Mary Mainot told the Bahama Journal that the airline would lose 99 percent of its business once its contract ended with the Royal Oasis.

She said no layoffs were planned at that time and the airline's management was looking into servicing other destinations.

But a source close to the airline told the Journal Sunday night that Laker plans to furlough its Bahamian staff indefinitely while it attempts to undergo its restructuring efforts.

The company's major shareholder, Sir Freddie Laker, was also reportedly voted off the company's board of directors, in a major shakeup that took place late last year.

Prior to its final scheduled flights in and out of Freeport Sunday, Laker's charter-jet service flew many routes not currently serviced by scheduled flights to Grand Bahama.

Fort Lauderdale, Freeport's most popular flight hub according to last year's tourism figures, was serviced almost predominantly by Laker Airways.

According to the Executive Vice President of Falcon Air, the airline will service routes including Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio; Richmond, Virginia; and Providence, Rhode Island.

Formed just six years ago, Falcon Air is a privately owned U.S. company with a fleet of eight Boeing 727 aircraft, according to the company's website.

In a recent interview with the Bahama Journal, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said that if there were layoffs as a result of changes at Laker, it "would be hoped" that the Bahamians affected could be assimilated into any new charter arrangements Royal Oasis secured.

But Mr. Lazaga said Falcon Air has no plans to hire any additional crewmembers.

Management of Laker Airways held a meeting with staff members at their Fort Lauderdale office Monday at 10am.

But up to press time, no member of the airline's management team was available for comment on the status of their Bahamian staff.

Sharon Williams, The Bahama Journal