Thursday, June 12, 2008

One Regional Airline for the Islands?

Some time ago, the World Bank suggested that Caribbean leaders consider having one regional airline. In the wake of the failure and profit loss of some airlines, the idea is once again being revisited, this time by Sir Ronald Sanders. Sanders, a former Caribbean diplomat, who served as Antigua & Barbuda’s high commissioner to the UK (1995-2004) is once again putting the subject back on the table. In fact in 2005, Sanders had lamented the fact that the possibility of a CARICOM or regional airline may never be. With the dismal financial status of the popular Air Jamaica airline no one can blame him.

In 2006, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also suggested that the government of Jamaica shut down Air Jamaica since it was draining the already strained budget. In 2006, Air Jamaica reportedly lost US$136 million and a record US$171 million in 2007. As a matter of fact, Air Jamaica has never made a profit in its 40-plus years of existence.

Many Jamaicans are unwilling to see the ‘national airline’s’ demise, but with the continuing inability to fund its operations it may be the only solution. The government is turning to the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank for assistance to divest the struggling entity in a bid to secure the jobs of its employees.

Unfortunately, Air Jamaica is not the only Caribbean airline to have financial woes. In 2006, another airline that was a standard in the Caribbean folded. BWIA, Trinidad which had operated in the Caribbean for over 60 years flew its last flight on December 31 and was replaced by Caribbean Airlines. LIAT, another Caribbean flyer is experiencing financial troubles and was actually bailed out in 2006 to the tune of US$16 million.

So, the big question at the moment is, ‘Should the Caribbean have one regional airline?’ Although one of those persons who flies Air Jamaica when I travel (I’ve been fortunate in not having a bad experience), a regional airline may be in everyone’s best interest. Such a merger, as Sanders stated in an article on, would possibly “be the silver lining in the cloud of oil at US$130 per barrel that now hangs darkly over the region’s tourism and transportation industries, and the livelihood of its people…”

In 2005, one of the region’s major tourism organizations, the Caribbean Hotel Association said that a ‘regional airline was the only way forward for air travel in the region.’

One of the biggest obstacles to such a merger happening is the nationalistic pride of Caribbean people who want to hold on to a little piece of what is theirs.

-Jessica McCurdy Crooks

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