September 21, 2020

Di Lollo – CAL faces internal risk

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caribbean-airlines-ceo-michael-dilolloBy Vernon Khelawan From T&T Newsday

“THE biggest risk to Caribbean Airlines today is not external, the risk is internal.” After three months on the job, this is the assessment of the airline’s new Chief Executive Officer Michael Di Lollo.

In an exclusive interview with Business Day and the first since he assumed control of the State-owned carrier, Di Lollo said he had arrived at this conclusion after weeks of observing, listening and diagnosing (why is it not working) the many problems which now beset Caribbean Airlines. He said the carrier had “some strengths but big weaknesses in most cases”.

In the “tell-it-like-it-is” interview, he admitted that the competition on several major routes was “fierce”. He said however, the more serious problems lay inside the operation itself and did not involve just a few people. He also said warned that people should not expect any “quick fix” methods to get the airline back to operating on an acceptable flight plan, but rather one that would involve “people, process and systems”.

Di Lollo is convinced that Caribbean Airlines is staffed by some great people with plenty of talent and skills and if properly directed in terms of mind set and attitude, the airline can find its rightful altitude in the world of aviation locally, regionally and even globally.

Canadian Di Lollo said he had identified four pillars which could go a long way to significantly improve the brand and to set Caribbean Airlines right. They are-: Safety; Passion, Customer Service and Stabilisation.

Going into some detail, he explained that safety was of utmost importance in any airline operation and Caribbean Airlines has safety as its number one priority and would continue making every effort to ensure that safety remains the major constant in the operation.

Di Lollo himself has worked in safety for many years and is considered a safety expert. He said he was responsible for creating a Safety Management System for the Canadian government, which was later adopted by the prestigious Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Safety at Caribbean Airlines is obviously in good hands.

About people, Di Lollo said he had seen deep passion in the majority of persons employed by the airline and this bodes well for the success of CAL. He added that inside the CAL operation there are many very good people and that was encouraging.

The CEO was particularly concerned about the level of the airline’s customer service, and while he agreed that this had a lot to do with a particular kind of mind set, it was a weakness on which he has already begun serious work to change. He regarded this a most important pillar.

His own passion for high level customer service is reflected in his message in the current edition of the airline’s in-flight magazine – Caribbean Beat – Di Lollo wrote, “At first thought, one would probably say that we are in the airline business – but for us it goes much deeper than that.

“In truth,” he continued, “we are in the people business; helping people get to places where they can chase opportunities, celebrate family or create memories. It is with this understanding that we are in fact in the people business that we continue to work at making sure that when you choose Caribbean Airlines, you choose convenient flight schedules and great service.’

Di Lollo wrote, “This moment in which you are seated for your flight is the culmination of a suite of efforts by a hardworking and inspired team. But we want to do a better job every day and your feedback is important to us. You are, after all, the centre of our universe. By letting us know how we can serve you better, you help us create a very special, symbiotic relationship, the kind that allows both customers and companies to win.”

The fourth and final pillar is stabilisation. Di Lollo said there existed “too much volatility” in the airline and one of his major tasks was to reduce or eliminate that volatility and set the company on a much better footing, a component necessary for moving forward successfully.

Reiterating the need to for the development of proper strategies and reminding that there can be no quick fixes, Di Lollo said, “A culture focussed on the four pillars is what has to be created.” He said there is an ongoing focus on cost reduction by setting out to “change the mind set about controlling costs while leveraging revenues.”

Asked why, given the amount of money Venezuela owes the airline, it is still providing daily service to that country, Di Lollo said, “Caracas is a very important geopolitical entity and there are many interests on the table.” He said “Caracas is a very lucrative route for CAL” and every effort was being made to get the debt to the airline reduced, while creating different strategies that would limit the amount of money remaining in the neighbouring republic.

Talking about the competition on several routes now serviced by CAL, Di Lollo said that overall the increased capacity introduced on the various routes where CAL was the major carrier, was more than 20 percent. There is WestJet on the Toronto route, JetBlue out of New York, American to Miami (two flights daily to CAL’s single service) and JetBlue doing Fort Lauderdale.

Di Lollo admitted that passengers were now looking mainly at fares and so that what was once a great strength of Caribbean Airlines – two free bags and meals – has now become a major weakness, so there is need to revisit that situation. He said that new strategies were being adopted to go head to head with the competition, including paying greater attention to the diaspora in the main metropolitan centres and Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR).

On the airbridge operation, Di Lollo said as far as he was concerned there would not be a separate airline. However, he was plugging for a separate team within CAL to completely manage the Tobago services. He said following talks with the Tobago House of Assembly last week it was agreed that CAL would have a presence on the Tobago Transport Committee and in turn the THA would have a representative on CAL’s Task Force.

In his budget statement Minister of Finance and the Economy and line minister of CAL, Larry Howai would only say, “With domestic tourism rapidly expanding, Caribbean Airlines is strengthening its policies and systems with a view to ensuring a greater alignment between demand and supply on the domestic airbridge.”

For more on this story go to: http://www.newsday.co.tt/businessday/0,200568.html

IMAGE: loopjamaica.com

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