Sold blimp flown to USBy NALINEE SEELAL Monday, April 2 2012
click on pic to zoom inYoung cadets: Minister in the Ministry of National Security Collin Partap, centre, speaks with commander of the Cadet Force Colonel Patrick Taylor and...The Skyship 600 blimp which was sold to an American company late last year for US$50,000 was flown back to the United States (US) last week by its new owners.
Two weeks ago, officials and employees of the American company which purchased the blimp, paid off the US$25,000 for acquisition of the Skyship and were given the clearance to have the blimp deflated and shipped to the US.
Sources at Camp Cumuto, where the blimp was in a hangar, told Newsday that about five employees of an American company deflated the blimp and began packaging the equipment.
The company paid a US$25,000 downpayment to acquire the Skyship 600, and only paid the balance of another US$25,000 in late February.
On February 4, the Skyship 600 which was still at Camp Cumuto missed the Super Bowl (American football) in the US because the new owner had not completed full payment for it.
The blimp was purchased by the former administration for US$15 million.
The decision was taken after Government was informed that the cost for keeping the blimp helium-charged at Camp Cumuto was costing too much, and it was advised that it was better to sell the Skyship to the highest bidder.
According to government sources, after Cabinet took a decision to sell the blimp to the highest bidder, a note was sent to the Finance and General Purpose Committee (FGPC) for approval. The Central Tenders Board was the body where bids for the purchase of the blimp were sent last year.
The blimp was purchased five years ago from Airship Management Services and since last September has been in a hangar at SAUTTís Camp Cumuto headquarters. The blimp was grounded to facilitate maintenance work, but that work was never carried out because of a decision taken by Government to stop using it.
Sources revealed it was costing government over TT$1.4 million or US$225,000 per month to maintain the blimp. The last time the blimp was used by Government was in July last year when the Priority Bus Route was opened up to members of the public during peak traffic hours.
Last August, a company hired by SAUTT to carry out maintenance work on the blimp was fired because government felt it was too costly to maintain. The total cost of maintenance from the date of acquisition June 2006 to December 2009 was $19,714,314.
The first blimp was purchased by the PNM administration at a cost of US$12 million. Months after the purchase was made the Skyship began experiencing difficulties. Government then took a decision to lease a foreign used blimp at a cost of US$100,000 per month, while the third blimp was purchased for US$15 million. Additional cost was added to that US$15 million to outfit the third blimp with surveillance equipment.
In September, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar set up a steering committee to review the resources and restructuring of SAUTT.
A decision was taken to wind up the operations of SAUTT and a committee led by Deputy Police Commissioner Stephen Williams was assigned to oversee the operations of SAUTT and facilitate the sale of the blimp.
Five foreigners and one local had expressed interest in purchasing the Skyship. However on January 27 during a Parliament debate, Minister of National Security Brigadier John Sandy made it clear that when the sale of the blimp was put out on the market, nobody wanted to buy it, and he said under those circumstances Government had no choice but to sell the blimp back to its manufacturer.