Attending the recently held first Caribbean Aviation Meet-Up Conference was probably one of the most productive weeks in my life. My only regret was that that many of the key decision-makers who should have been there, were not.
First, both my flights from Barbados to Dominica and return departed and landed on-time, virtually to the minute and it was comforting that an airline that has attracted so much negative attention can get it right. The other interesting fact was that five out of the current nine aircraft fleet were all sitting on the tarmac at Grantley Adams Airport when I got there, which makes all the politically generated rhetoric about a logical operating base, absolute nonsense. If over 50 percent of the carrier’s passengers either join or transit Barbados, then where should the obvious hub be? Then factor in that this country’s taxpayers are the single largest shareholder with the largest risk and debt exposure.
What did disturb me was the number of empty seats on both my flights and when speaking to other delegates travelling on the same airline at different days and times, it was a similar story. My outward flight (ATR72-600) had 29 empty seats (57 per cent loading) and return (ATR42-600) 18 empty seats (61 per cent loading). While I understand, timings and frequency have been changed recently, in the commercial world of reality, this is simply unacceptable.
To put this in perspective, the average load factor throughout 2015 for the following airlines was: American – 83.1 percent, Air Canada – 83.4 percent, JetBlue – 84.7 percent and WestJet – 80 per cent.
If this LIAT situation on the Dominica route is in any way typical of the entire network, then it’s blatantly obvious there is a huge empty capacity and enormous opportunity to match those empty seats with vacant accommodation beds.
The conference itself attracted some of the most experienced minds and proven experience in aviation and tourism modern history, ranging from airport operators, floating airports, airlines, representatives from the International Monetary Fund and Caribbean Development Bank, Ministers of Tourism, the CEO’s of national tourism organisations and a whole range of associated experts.
My personal interest was to help grow airlift into the Caribbean, both regionally and long haul. As a result of collective discussion, we have already identified at least three airports that appear to be capable of handling the new Bombardier CS series aircraft which can land and take off on shorter runway lengths. This all-new aircraft is far more fuel efficient, quieter, has larger baggage stowage capacity, can fly up to 3,300 nautical miles and perhaps the most important feature altogether is that it can land and take off on a runway length a little more than 4,000 feet. With a seating capacity of 100-145 seats, depending on the model, it substantially lowers the risk of having to fill much larger planes to financially ‘break-even’.
Delta Airlines have placed a firm order for 45 of the aircraft with an option for 50 more. Air Canada has announced a firm order for 45 and options for another 30.
Following last week’s column the Swedish Ambassador to the Caribbean has pledged his support to secure a direct service from Scandinavia to Barbados. Clearly he already liaises with the other Nordic countries at the highest level and his assistance could prove invaluable.