Challenge for CAL’s Jamaica operations
By Vernon Khelawan Thursday, July 12 2012
JAMAICANS by nature are passionately patriotic and fiercely loyal to their country and any indigenous industry they can lay claim to and these are the two attributes that could prove to be a tough challenge for Caribbean Airlines in its Jamaica operations for the remainder of 2012 and into 2013.
After posting serious losses of some (US)$38 million in 2011 and the prospects for 2012 not particularly bright, comes the news that a new Jamaican airline is about to take flight and will compete directly with CAL’s Air Jamaica brand on most of its lucrative routes to North America.
In a Jamaica Gleaner story last week, it was reported that Fly Jamaica Airways (FJA) is expected to begin operations next month with scheduled services to Guyana, New York and Toronto using its own B-757 twin-engined jet with a configuration of 12/186, making a total payload of 198 seats.
Chief Operating Officer (COO) Captain Lloyd Tai said FJA will appeal to the diaspora concentrated in these metropolitan areas in the US and Canada. He said, “It’s a Jamaican airline. Most of our staff will be Jamaican and persons in the diaspora will know that we are for them. They are more accustomed to a Jamaican airline.”
Tai’s statement must be regarded as a not so subtle hint that FJA was going after CAL’s Air Jamaica brand passengers and this was further amplified when Tai added, “Once the reaction is good and we expect it to be…” It would seem then it is CAL to catch.
Fly Jamaica Airways is a partnership between Guyana-born Paul Ronald Reece, who owns Guyana-based Wings Aviation Inc, and three Jamaican shareholders, including Tai and Manager, In-flight services Christine Steele.
So, apart from its current frightening financial position, State-owned Caribbean Airlines is facing a plethora of other challenges in many areas of its operations.
Two of these challenges which now seriously affect the airline’s bottom line are the leases they continue to pay Chilean airline LAN for airplanes they cannot now use and the urgent need to sell off four brand, new state-of-the-art ATR -72-600 aircraft, it had ordered, without actually taking possession of them.
A shortage of pilots is another challenge the airline is now dealing with. Acquisition of the ATRs, which now service the airbridge together with the aging Dash-8s as well as some other Caribbean destinations, means eventually getting rid of the present Dash-8-300 fleet.
This in turn means cockpit crews transitioning from the Dash to the ATRs, but since there is uncertainty in the arrival of the new planes, management is now forced to do a critical balancing act to keep just enough Dash-8 pilots while at the same time training pilots for duty on the ATRs, when the Dash-8s are finally replaced. The interim solution employed by the airline is hiring ‘ex-pat’ pilots on short term contracts to fly the Dash-8s.
On the other side of that coin however, is the situation with the crews have been trained, at great cost, to fly the two leased B-767-ER200 aircraft, which were earmarked to operate the London Gatwick services which was inaugurated on June 14 last. These crews while still being paid, have no alternative but to sit at home with no planes to fly.
Because of an oversight problem regarding the leased B-767s, which the Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation Authority (TTCAA) is now trying to resolve, CAL was forced into a wet lease agreement for a similar aircraft from Omni International, an aircraft leasing company based in Maryland, USA. Business Day understands the going rate for a wet lease arrangement is around (US)$1000 per hour, which means that a round trip POS-LGW-POS – could cost close to (US)$20,000.
The two planes in question, already painted in CAL’s colours and livery, remain sitting in Mexico awaiting solution of an oversight problem. Three weeks ago, a CAA official told Business Day those planes should become available to CAL by the end of July.
However, after four weekends of London service, Caribbean Airlines is yet to reveal how the transAtlantic loads have been. On its inaugural flight on June 14 there were 153 passengers to London and on the return, Business Day understands some 111 passengers travelled to Port of Spain.