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[Caribbean] Region’s airspace heats up

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[Caribbean] Region’s airspace heats up

Unread post by bimjim » Thu Sep 05, 2013


[Caribbean] Region’s airspace heats up
Vernon Khelawan
Thursday, September 5 2013

CALL it growth, call it expansion; call it competition for market share; call it whatever you want, the fact is the Caribbean airspace is about to become a lot busier and a lot more heated.

In a matter of weeks, Caribbean Airlines (CAL) is expected to unveil yet another Business Plan, this time a product of the new Phillip Marshall-led Board; fledgling Jamaican airline Fly Jamaica (FJ) is set to compete with CAL on north-south routes involving New York’s JFK International and Toronto’s Pearson International with new services to Georgetown, Guyana; LIAT with new ATR aircraft, is still grappling with the fallout from its recent service “meltdown”, has pledged to improve its customer service quality and its efficiency ; and a Cuban airline introduces scheduled services to Jamaica out of Havana. Such is the scenario that is dawning on Caribbean aviation.

Interestingly, while CAL is fighting to maintain its status as Guyana’s flag carrier and at the same time facing the possibility of losing its right to fly non-stop from New York to Georgetown following an objection filed with the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) by the powerful lobby Airlines for America (A4A) over its fuel subsidy, comes the news that Fly Jamaica is all set to begin service on the same route by the end of the month.

However, Fly Jamaica is not home free, because like CAL, it too, has to defend the same objection filed by A4A, one of America’s oldest and largest airline trade associations, in its bid to introduce service between New York and Georgetown.

According to press reports, the Jamaican-based airline got the all clear last week following the completion of in-depth inspections of general facilities at the airline’s base at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport by a team headed by Captain Egbert Field of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA).

Field, in an interview with Guyana’s Kaieteur News said in the team’s findings showed there was nothing that would stop Fly Jamaica from initiating flights between New York and Guyana. He said the mandate of his team was to ensure that all safety procedures, manuals and facilities were in order. Field’s team is expected to visit Toronto soon to complete similar inspections preparatory to FJ initiating non-stop, scheduled service between Toronto and Georgetown.

Does this spell danger for CAL? It could. When (it seems pretty certain at this point) FJ begins these, definitely the Toronto-Georgetown sector service, it would most certainly eat into CAL’s market share and worse, should the DOT uphold the A4A objection, CAL would be forced to operate its Guyana services with a layover at Piarco, something the Guyanese travelling public has been protesting for many years.

In the same way, FJ would be allowed to service New York from Georgetown, but with an intermediate stop at Kingston’s Norman Manley International. The question therefore arises. Can the DOT deny the rights of the two Caribbean airlines to fly non-stop between New York and Georgetown? Allowing one and denying the other could tread pretty close to rank discrimination, while blanking both would certainly open the door for a US carrier to re-enter. Delta Airlines was the last US carrier on the route and it stopped service last May, citing poor loads.

The objection filed by A4A against the two Caribbean carriers cited a vacuous reason which simply stated “serious and troubling issues” that could affect consumers, A4A members and their employees. Taking into consideration that there is no US airline providing any service on the route at this time, gives the impression that there is a move afoot to make way for other airlines, possibly an American carrier or two to launch service(s) on the route.

Since Delta’s withdrawal CAL has enjoyed a monopoly on the route and there have been a plethora of complaints against the Trinidad carrier about their high fares, which has forced the Guyana authorities to take up the matter with CAL officials. Discussions are ongoing on this and other issues relative to the service.

Meanwhile LIAT is valiantly trying to recover from the effects of the recent “meltdown” which had hoteliers and regular passengers calling for the heads of the board and the airline’s management. CEO Ian Brunton last week in a “We are sorry” statement said, “We apologise to all our travelling public that felt they were hurt by us” and the admission that “we did inflict a lot of pain on people.”

The airline’s troubles are directly related to a ten per-cent decline in revenue for the current year which is equivalent to some (US)$30 million; the company’s inability to sell two of its old Dash-8 airplanes and probably the most critical, However, Fly Jamaica is not home free, because like CAL, it too, has to defend the same objection filed by A4A, one of America’s oldest and largest airline trade associations.

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