Keisha Hill, Gleaner Writer
Starting an airline is a complicated business. Running a profitable airline is even tougher, as the process involves constant learning and adaptation. Fly Jamaica Airways, a new airline set to begin operations in Jamaica in August, is taking the owners and partners close to a year to officially take to the skies.
Fly Jamaica Airways is a partnership between chief executive officer (CEO), Guyana-born Paul Ronald Reece and three Jamaican shareholders including Chief Operating Officer (COO) Captain Lloyd Tai and manager of in-flight services, Christine Steele. Reece is also the owner of Wings Aviation Inc, based in Guyana.
According to the COO, the opportunity presented itself to set up operations in Jamaica following the demise of Air Jamaica. Tai said, with the availability of resources including qualified persons in Jamaica and the country's good reputation in the aviation industry they decided to take on the challenge.
"The starting-up process has been challenging and rigorous. There are regulatory guidelines that we have had to meet, including the standards of the International Aviation Organisation of which Jamaica is a signatory. They set the guidelines and standards for us to follow," Tai said.
Tai said they have been going through the process that includes the application, documentation, demonstration, and the issuance of the air operation certificate (AOC). During the application process, the airline must outline the persons who will be integrally involved in the process, and these individuals must be highly qualified especially in relation to the day-to-day operations of the airline.
"They include flight operations, maintenance, safety and quality, in-flight service and security," Tai said.
Each department, he said, has its own set of books, in other words, it's own 'bible' of how the airline will be operated. "Our primary goal is safety and we have to demonstrate that we can operate a safe airline, and the documentation shows how we comply with the requirements made in law," Tai said.
Fly Jamaica Airways is now preparing for the demonstration process set for two weeks away. The facilities will be inspected to ensure that the required support is in place and the plane and its services will also come under scrutiny. The airline has already acquired its own Boeing 757 aircraft that will comfortably seat 12 first-class and 186 economy-class passengers.
Following a satisfactory demonstration, they will be issued with the AOC, which is in fact the licence given to operate an airline. Interestingly, the process does not stop there as, upon the issuance of the licence, the airline has to prove 'economic authority', which is to show financial viability. "They have to ensure that we have the means to continue operating at a safe standard. This information we have already submitted," Tai said.
Few businesses have as many variables and challenges as airlines. They are capital-intensive, competition is fierce and often at the mercy of fuel-price volatility. Operations are labour intensive and subject to government control and political influence, and a lot depends on the weather.
Appealing to the diaspora
However, Tai is confident that, with the airline offering full service on the chosen routes between Jamaica, Guyana, Toronto and New York, they will appeal to the diaspora concentrated in these areas. "It is a Jamaican airline. Most of our staff will be Jamaicans, and persons in the diaspora will know that we are for them. They are more accustomed to a Jamaican airline," Tai said.
He said, once the AOC is issued and all the standards and requirements have been met, they will have no difficulty getting into these markets. Fly Jamaica Airways, he said, will likely start with a three-on-three flight schedule to each destination, with one day downtime for maintenance.
"Once the reaction is good, and we expect it to be, we will control our growth. We will take it gradually, as we do not want to be ahead of ourselves. We do not want to be out front and spending money we do not have," Tai said.
Tai said, having progressed through all the stages, they have done the groundwork and are confident that the airline will be successful. "Jamaica has an image and we are going to fly and work with that image," Tai concluded.