Cayman Airways will buy two new 50-seat turbo-prop aircrafts to link Cayman Brac with South Florida by the year’s end, Tourism Minister Charles Clifford told the Legislative Assembly Monday.
The Saab 2000 aircrafts will provide direct, round-trip flights between Cayman Brac and either Miami or Tampa, and will also help CAL increase services to Central America, Cuba and South Florida from Grand Cayman.
Sister Islands MLA Moses Kirkconnell, who has campaigned for a direct service between the Brac and Florida since being elected in 2005, described the announcement as the biggest victory of his political career.
‘For the Brac, it’s one of the most significant steps forward, in terms of developing a sustainable economy,’ he said.
‘You see a lot of hotel rooms and condominiums being built now in the hope that this would take place, so I think it gives great comfort to people thinking about investing in Cayman Brac, to see a major step like this by this government.’
Mr. Clifford did not say Monday how much the two planes will cost, and no provision is made for their purchase in the Government’s budget for the coming financial year.
He told the Compass the planes are not mentioned in the budget because the decision to buy them was taken subsequent to the 2008/09 budget being prepared.
With the aircraft capable of travelling at up to 435mph, Mr. Clifford said a trip between Miami and Grand Cayman would take only 10 minutes longer than on one of CAL’s 737-300 jets.
The Saab aircrafts can also fly high – up to 31,000 feet – making flights over Cuba more comfortable in summer, when there are often increased clouds in the area, he said.
Mr. Kirkconnell dismissed fears that direct airlift from Florida could lead to overdevelopment of the sparsely populated sister islands.
‘At this point in time … we need more service. So there hasn’t been the thought that we are going to put too many seats in the market so we are going to overdevelop it.’
The Saab planes will not fly to Little Cayman until the runway at the Edward Bodden Airfield is extended. In the meantime, CAL’s 19-seat Twin Otters will continue to service the island.
But once the runway extension is completed, it may be time to look at selling the Twin Otters, the tourism minister continued.
During his contribution to the budget debate, Mr. Clifford also discussed how CAL’s fleet has been reorganised to get more efficiency from its aircrafts.
‘When I took office we had five jets in the fleet and the aircraft utilisation was at 4.5 hours per day – very, very low,’ he said. ‘Industry standards are somewhere between 12 and 15 hours per day.
‘The bottom line was we had too many jets for our network.’
He said CAL’s three 737 jets (there is a fourth to come at the end of May) are now being used for about 10.5 hours per day, bringing the national airline closer to industry standards.