Dec. 9, 2003 — Caribbean Sun Airlines will not be landing at airports on St. Thomas and St. Croix on Thursday as scheduled, or perhaps any time soon. The carrier was scheduled to begin flying from Puerto Rico to the territory Thursday.
The airline has been denied permission by the V.I. Government to operate until it changes its name. Lt. Governor Vargrave Richards in a Dec. 3 letter to Tom Bolt, the airline's attorney, backed a decision by Lorna Webster, Division of Corporations and Trademarks director, denying the airline permission to register Caribbean Sun Airlines as a foreign corporation doing business in the Virgin Islands because its name is too similar to two other entities — Sun Airways and Caribbean Airline Acquisitions, Inc.
Richards said Tuesday morning that he is turning over the matter to the office of the Attorney General Iver Stridiron for a "speedy" opinion. Stridiron said Tuesday afternoon that he will have an official opinion in the Lt. Governors office by "tomorrow afternoon."
Bolt said Monday that he had been advised by Stridiron that "he had recommended that the Lt. Governor register Caribbean Sun Airlines as a foreign corporation registered to conduct business in the V.I. and indicated that the Lt. Governor had no basis to deny same."
Richards said Tuesday that he knew nothing about that. Stridiron said of Bolts statement, "Yes, I have talked to everybody."
According to Richards, "The Lt. Governors office cannot reserve or grant a name which is the same as, or so similar as to cause confusion, with any other name. This case applied for suggest a similarity between two existing companies both in good standing, Sun Airways and Caribbean Airline Acquisitions. It was the opinion of the director of corporations that the names were so similar as to have created confusion. We have statutory responsibility to avoid confusion, so she denied the name."
Richards said, "The corporation division hasnt stopped anyone from doing business." He continued, "The allegations about us not being 'business friendly' are not the issue. The issue here is having the law applied fairly and consistently."
Bolt said he is taking the government's decision to federal court Tuesday, or as soon "as we can get in there We have no alternative at this point, but to go to court," he said.
Bolt said Caribbean Sun Airlines is the official commuter airline for US Airways and has been "really upset" by the decision. He said the airline is USAir's equivalent to American Airlines' American Eagle.
"We stand to lose millions; we will leave more than 1,500 people stranded over the next two weeks because of this foul-up. Its unbelievable, not only in terms of lost income, but in the negative publicity. We have spent more than a quarter million dollars in Puerto Rico advertising alone." It is negative publicity for the territory too, Bolt said, "making the V.I. look unfriendly to business."
"There is something terribly wrong here," Bolt said. "Sun Airways has no airplanes, no Federal Aviation Administration certificate, no airline history, and is not licensed to do business in the territory. Vargrave Richards was assigned by the governor to bring business to St. Croix. The government has issued $10 million in bond guarantees to a company with that background. It doesnt make sense."
Webster said Tuesday that the company needs to file again under another name. "The simplest way to put this," she said, "is it doesnt matter whether the company is registered in another state (as one name), they cant come into the territory and register under a similar name."
She cited an opinion in a 1982 letter of then Attorney General Donald M. Bouton, in a case involving a company named Mageco, registered in Nevada. "If Mageco intends to use a trademark name which is the same as, or similar to any other trademark or corporate name, that would be prohibited."
Webster said, "We are business friendly. Every business has a right to be protected. Nobody has more rights than others." She said her decision doesnt mean the company cannot do business in the territory. "They just need another name." She said should the company file under a new name, her office would act on it immediately.
Caribbean Sun Airlines commenced operations January 21, and provides regular service between San Juan and Tortola, Antigua, St. Maarten and St. Kitts. San Juan is the airlines hub. According to a company press release, the airline, combined with its sister airline, Caribbean Star, serves 15 destinations within the Caribbean with more than 120 flights a day. The airline had planned four flights daily from San Juan to St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Bolt said Sun Airways has never flown. It once chartered two planes and cancelled the flights, he said. "They abandoned the trade name," Bolt said. "They admitted in a Puerto Rico court pleading that the last time they used the name was in 1998. I got a report from the U.S. Office of Patents and Trademarks that they had abandoned the name," he said.
Richards said he couldnt "speak frankly to a Puerto Rico case, a case not in this jurisdiction."
Bruce M. Casner, Sun Airways chairman, first introduced the airline to the territory in a presentation before the V.I. Port Authority board in August, 2001. He was introduced to the board by Sen. David Jones, a longtime supporter of bringing off-island investment to the territory.
Casner told the board of plans to make St. Croix the airline's hub for an ambitious schedule. He said Sun Airways expects to transport some 215,000 passengers in its first "mature" year of operation. See "Airline wants to make St. Croix one of its hubs."
Bolt said it was his understanding that Derek Hodge, legal counsel for Sun Airways, had filed an objection with the Lt. Governors office based on a provision in the V.I. Code that it would "cause confusion." Bolt said that would have stalled the registration.
Neither Webster nor Richards confirmed such an objection had been filed. Hodge is off-island and could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards did not return a call for comment Tuesday.
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