Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
Seven months after responding to the calls of domestic travellers, the Tinson Pen-based Airways International - operators of Jamaica Air Shuttle - will spread its wings across the Caribbean.
The airline's next stops are Cayman Brac in The Cayman Islands, July 2, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 28, says Christopher Read, Airways International chairman.
For years, The Cayman Islands have been part of the Jamaican flight plan, with carriers such as Cayman Airways and Air Jamaica servicing the route. however, "Cayman Brac has never enjoyed direct services, and we plan to fill that gap," Read told Sunday Business during an interview last week.
And what normally took a full day of travel through other destinations will now take 35 minutes from Kingston on one of the three Beech 99 turbo prop airliners in the Jamaica Air Shuttle fleet, and another undergoing refurbishing.
Haiti, a mere hour and 15 minutes from Jamaica, also involved overnight stopovers through countries such as Panama for persons without a United States visa. However, Jamaica Air Shuttle passengers will get to the Haitian capital in less than two hours, said Read.
"These are two niches that I think we can effectively compete on because neither of those destinations justifies a regular jetliner of 100 seats," argues the aircraft engineer-turned pilot. In fact, the small carrier, he admited, does not have the capability to compete with carriers such as Caribbean Airlines, which recently took over Air Jamaica.
Incorporated here in 1969, Read's Airways International has been at the forefront of general aviation activities and services within the island since that time. The company is probably best known by Jamaicans for its efficient and innovative cross-island courier service - Airpak Express.
More convenient and easy
With a staff complement of 40 persons, including mechanics, pilots, customer-service agents and baggage handlers, the airline currently flies four round trips per day between the tourism capital, Montego Bay, and the capital city. "This is a capacity of 96 passengers, as each aircraft carries up to 12 people," the Jamaica Air Shuttle head explained.
Its original plans were to offer a choice for Kingstonians who have been affected by the reduction in flights by Air Jamaica. "With Air Jamaica's demise, they had fewer choices," he argued, adding that flying with Jamaica Air Shuttle was far more convenient and easy.
Describing the establishing of the domestic route as a natural synergy between his company and the state-of-the-art Sangster International Airport, he said what they were trying to do was create a critical mass, "increasing the Jamaican traffic through MBJ, while creating better travel experiences to the public".
Currently, even the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic travellers who arrive in Kingston have access to Jamaica Air Shuttle and are capitalising on the conve-nience of connecting to their hotels in the resort capital.
The airline has quite a bit of capacity in relation to baggage, and allows 50lbs free, with an option to pay for overweight. "And if we were to find difficulty accommodating all of the luggage on the aircraft the passenger was on, we have a contingency plan for using our airplanes that we use for cargo," said Read.
The carrier has 14 different travel agencies that write its tickets, and a website for booking directly - www.jamaicaairshuttle.com.