Trinidad and Tobago's airline industry poised to take flight

Flying flags of both Trinidad and Tobago and the Netherlands, Dutch airline KLM made its first landing in two decades at the Piarco International Airport on October 16. - Angelo Marcelle
Flying flags of both Trinidad and Tobago and the Netherlands, Dutch airline KLM made its first landing in two decades at the Piarco International Airport on October 16. - Angelo Marcelle

The return of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to the shores of Trinidad and Tobago after a 20-year absence occasions discussion of the economic role of airline linkages and the aviation industry within ongoing plans for diversification.

The more airline linkages the better. They are a sign that TT is regarded as a viable destination, which augurs well for the stimulation of economic activity. Transportation connections bolster tourism and open new business opportunities even outside of that sector.

It is of note that KLM’s strategy reportedly involves expansion to regions that have been identified as being likely to quickly recover from the covid19 pandemic.

Sensing a changing tide due to advances in vaccination, many other airlines are poised to follow KLM’s example. It was recently announced that Virgin Atlantic will introduce a raft of routes to the Caribbean, including direct flights from Edinburgh to Barbados, Manchester to Jamaica as well as a new winter route from Heathrow to St Lucia.

We need to be poised to take advantage of this momentum.

In the first place, special attention must be placed on Tobago and all of the issues surrounding its airport expansion project which seems to be proceeding slowly. There have been a range of issues raised in relation to land acquisition and some politicians have even called for audits – but the need for a facility that complies with the highest standards and has the capacity to accommodate projected tourist arrivals is clear.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines staff applaud at a function held in their honour at the Piarco International Airport on October 16 when the airline made the inaugural flight on its return to TT after two decades. - Angelo Marcelle

But the airport alone cannot be the focus. The island’s recent travel award will amount to little without a clear marketing plan to attract visitors in the first place. There should also be a focus on improving service standards and supporting all of the players within the tourism sector, big and small, who together give shape to Tobago as a unique tourist destination.

Questions have already been asked as to whether the proposed hotel at Rocky Point will function within a coherent plan that is sensitive to environmental needs and that matches an overarching vision for Tobago.

The KLM route from Port of Spain to Amsterdam also points to the continued demarcation between Trinidad and Tobago as separate tourism strategy spaces through two separate state enterprises pursuing specialised agendas. It is clear that many Dutch passengers arriving in Trinidad will be interested in Tobago – underscoring how the divided approach, while it might have advantages, is ultimately artificial.

Of course, this situation does have the benefit of suggesting how Trinidad and Tobago could be marketed as part of the same package, with arrival in Trinidad being followed by a trip to Tobago – benefiting local carrier Caribbean Airlines Ltd, which has pledged to bolster the inter-island airlink.

Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan’s recent mention of a proposed “expansion of the aerodrome” with a desire to make Piarco International Airport a hub for aviation activities also suggests another aspect of the diversification agenda that could sit alongside planning for tourism arrivals.

Such plans, which may hinge on further infrastructural improvements, should be fully enumerated and analysed if they are ever to take flight.


"Trinidad and Tobago’s airline industry poised to take flight"

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