Fri | Dec 15, 2017

Jamaica aviation needs investment boost, talent

Published:Friday | December 8, 2017 | 12:00 AMSteven Jackson

Aviation experts acknowledged growth in the global industry on Wednesday, but were downbeat on the local sector, saying it has suffered from a flight of talent.

Jamaica requires investment in new airlines and related businesses to attract the talent back to the island, but part of that drive involves the resuscitation of Vernamfield in Clarendon, according to participants of an aviation seminar in Kingston. Vernamfield remains largely an "ideation".

"For Tinson Pen, the focal point of Government and the Cabinet is to transform it into a logistics support centre for what takes place on the wharf," said Audley Deidrick, president of the Airports Authority of Jamaica.

"So Tinson Pen, as we know it, will be diminished or totally taken out. What that means is that other airports will be the focal point for replacing these types of operations," he said.

Deidrick said that current discussions on the sector are centred around reactivating aviation at Vernamfield and a central focus of that is to use it for aviation operations and training.

In April this year, Transport Minister Mike Henry announced that the Tinson Pen aerodrome and Jamaica Defence Force Air Wing, both currently situated in Kingston, would be relocated to the proposed Vernamfield Aerotropolis in Clarendon. The long-discussed Vernamfield project forms part of the multibillion-dollar logistics port development set for southwest Clarendon.

There was no explicit timeline for the development, and later reports indicated that the Air Wing would remain in Kingston.

Global aviation doubles its output every 15 years. There are now 1,400 airlines operating 26,000 planes globally. At any one point in time, there are up to a million persons commuting by air.

Jamaica no longer operates a national carrier, having sold Air Jamaica to Caribbean Airlines in exchange for a minority stake in the Trinidad-based regional carrier. Another regional carrier, Fly Jamaica, also operates from Jamaica.

"The bottom line is that we have to recreate an industry," said Christopher Read, CEO of Airways International and the Jamaica Aviation Operators and Pilots Association (JAOPA). He said that during Air Jamaica's tenure, the local industry offered a path for advancement for pilots and aviation professions, and that the chain flowed from student, to flight instructor, to courier pilot, to domestic airline pilot, to international.

"With the demise of Air Jamaica, that whole chain came to an end," Read said at the seminar. "There is no more flow of traffic throw there. Students get to stage two of a five-step process and stop there. So the drive has to be about re-energising the opportunities locally," he said.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com