Jamaica Air Shuttle eyes flights to Cuba and Haiti
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
The upgrading of the Boscobel Aerodrome in St Mary has re-energised talks of flights between Santiago de Cuba and Jamaica, says Jamaica Air Shuttle Chairman Christopher Read.
Read, whose company is already approved to operate scheduled charters into Cayman Brac, is currently awaiting the go-ahead by the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) to operate as Jamaica's designated carrier into Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and has also turned his attention to Cuba.
Under bilateral agreements with most of these countries and Jamaica, each is allowed one carrier to serve between the destinations, and in most cases, Air Jamaica is the designated carrier from the Jamaican side. However, the former national carrier does not fly on any of these routes.
"We have had several talks with the Cuban civil aviation and have now submitted all our Jamaican approvals to the Cubans and are awaiting the issuance of a permit," said Read.
The permit would allow access to all international airports in Cuba.
The Jamaica Air Shuttle head said there is an existing interest by tour operators in Jamaica to reinstitute day tours for tourists between Montego Bay and Santiago de Cuba, but there is no sufficiently regular air service to support that market.
In addition, there are special-interest tourists and business groups that require direct service from Jamaica to eastern Cuba, returning two or three days later.
Importantly, there are 110 Jamaican students in Santiago, with no direct means of getting there, even though the flight is a mere 50 minutes from Montego Bay.
Read said that by November 12, the 400 Jamaicans living and working in Cayman Brac would have direct service to Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. And by December 1, the Haitian route should be up and running, if not affected by unforeseen circumstances.
"Cayman Brac (CYB) was chosen as one of our first international destinations for a number of reasons," Read explained. "It is the closest island to ours - only 30 minutes' flying time from Montego Bay - and there is no direct air service between CYB and Jamaica."
According to him, passengers are now forced to travel via Grand Cayman to Kingston, then on to Montego Bay, which takes a full day of travel, and sometimes an overnight in Grand Cayman.
"Most of the Jamaicans working in CYB are from western Jamaica and have no need to travel to Kingston to get to Trelawny, St James or Westmoreland," he argued, adding that CYB had been completely rebuilt - hotels, condominiums, hospital, university, roads, power-generation plant - since major damage by Hurricane Paloma.
"They need tourism to restart their economy and we see the Sangster International Airport hub in Montego Bay as the ideal gateway for attracting passengers from Europe, UK, South America, North America, the Far East to travel quickly and conveniently and directly to CYB."
In the case of Haiti, Port-Au-Prince is a 70-minute flight from the Norman Manley International Airport, versus an overnight journey to travel through Panama or Miami, Read explained.
He said there was currently no way to travel to Haiti directly from any CARICOM member state; passengers have to transit Miami or Panama to get there. Both Cayman Brac and Port-au-Prince have significant time and cost implications, Read argued, as well as requiring visas in most instances.
Jamaica Air Shuttle is also eyeing Antigua in the Eastern Caribbean as well.