Plane company tagged for safety

Mexican charter had 2 complaints already

By Michael Weissenstein

and Bert Wilkinson

The Associated Press

HAVANA — The Mexican charter company whose plane crashed in Havana, killing 110 people, has been the subject of two serious complaints about its crews’ performance over the last decade, according to authorities in Guyana and a retired pilot for Cuba’s national airline.

The plane was barred from Guyanese airspace last year after authorities discovered that its crew had been allowing dangerous overloading of luggage on flights to Cuba, Guy­anese Civil Avi­ation Dir­ector Capt. Egbert Field told The Associated Press on Saturday.

The plane and crew were being rented from Mexico City-based Damojh airlines by EasySky, a Honduras-based low-cost airline. Cuba’s national carrier, Cubana de Aviacion, was also renting the Boeing 737 and crew in a similar arrangement known as a “wet lease” before the aircraft veered on takeoff to the eastern Cuban city of Holguin and crashed into a field just after noon Friday, ac­cording to Mexican aviation authorities.

A Damojh employee in Mexico City declined to comment, saying the company would be communicating only through written statements.

Mexican authorities said Damojh had permits needed to lease its aircraft and had passed a November 2017 verification of its maintenance program.

Cuban Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez told reporters Saturday afternoon that Cubana had been renting the plane for less than a month under an arrangement in which the Mexican company was entirely responsible for maintenance of the aircraft. Armando Daniel Lopez, president of Cuba’s Institute of Civil Aviation, told the AP that Cuban authorities had not received any complaints about the plane in that month. He declined to comment further.

Yzquierdo said it was routine for Cuba to rent planes under a variety of arrangements because of what he described as the country’s inability to purchase its own aircraft due to the U.S. trade embargo on the island. Cuba has been able to buy planes produced in other countries, including France and Ukraine, but has pulled many from service due to maintenance problems and other issues.

“It’s normal for us to rent planes,” he said. “Why? Because it’s convenient and because of the problem of the blockade that we have. Sometimes we can’t buy the planes that we need, and we need to rent them.”

He said that with Damojh, “the formula here is that they take care of the maintenance of the aircraft. That’s their responsibility.”

He said Cuba didn’t have pilots certified to fly the Boeing, so it had hired the Mexican crew with the expectation that they were fully trained and certified by the proper authorities.