This fiscal year is expected to be an overall record year for Cayman Airways in terms of revenue, according to airline officials.
But, at the same time, sky-rocketing fuel costs pose a huge challenge for the national flag carrier.
At a press conference at Cayman Airways headquarters recently to launch the festivities for the airline’s 40th anniversary, VP Finance Paul Tibbetts explained that for March the airline had less than 70 per cent load factor [the percentage of occupied seats by paying passengers] for flights.
‘That was a record for the company,’ said Chairperson of the Board of Directors Angelyn Hernandez.
March was also a record month for revenue. ‘Our passenger revenue was roughly US$5.6 million, which again was the best we’ve ever had in our history,’ said Mr. Tibbetts.
‘It’s exciting. We do have fuel, which continues to overshadow any success we have, so it’s frustrating, but also it’s exciting at the same time, that we are moving in the right direction.’
CEO Patrick Strasburger said that for the past four months in a row the airline has improved both its load factor and revenue. This is compared with budget and the previous two years (month over month).
‘We fully expect this fiscal year to be an overall record year for Cayman Airways in terms of revenue,’ said Mr. Tibbetts in an emailed response to questions from the Caymanian Compass.
Mr. Strasburger noted that in a number of Cayman Airways’ internal measurements they pull fuel out of the equation so they do not lose sight of the successes they have had.
Mr. Tibbetts said that March was very unique in that Easter and Spring Break were all the same time frame, and while they expect productivity to continue, perhaps they would not expect it to continue at that level.
Ms Hernandez said, ‘It’s also seasonal, but for the most part we’re really optimistic because the summer months are looking like they are going to be really good and we’re going to try to push special promotions for those slow months so we can try and get the load factor up.’
Mr. Strasburger said that fuel prices are undoubtedly the biggest challenge to the airline currently. ‘It’s debilitating,’ he said, noting that airlines in the US are filing bankruptcy, primarily because of fuel prices.
Ms Hernandez said the airline is taking every step it can possibly take to try and minimise the unnecessary use of fuel and to also conserve as much as possible.
Mr. Strasburger said the airline introduced its Every Drop Counts programme earlier this year, a company wide initiative designed to raise consciousness of fuel and energy expenses. It has changed a number of flight procedures – taxiing with one engine. They are also using different flight planning techniques. ‘Through our IT department we’ve been able to implement some monitoring systems so we can actually measure these results as we fly daily,’ he said.
Tankering fuel – buying fuel in a cheaper location, carrying that fuel to a destination that it may be more expensive to buy fuel at, and not having to fuel up as much at that stop – is also used by the airline.
Deputy Chair of the Board Captain Johnny Brown said that the introduction of winglets [near-vertical wing tips that improve aerodynamics] is something the airline is looking at because of the efficiency factor considering the longer flights (such as to New York) and the cost of fuel. He added that they are also looking into more fuel efficient aircraft.
For the future the vision is a bigger, better airline, said Ms Hernandez. ‘Our biggest goal is to ensure that despite the competition . . . that we distinguish ourselves by offering supreme top customer service, ensuring the only choice of air travel to and from the Cayman Islands should be Cayman Airways and this is what we have to ensure that is always the goal, no matter what.’
Mr. Strasburger emphasised the airline’s aim of being a safe and secure airline and added, ‘We want to be on time. We want to have a company that is easy to do business with . . . and to continue to leverage technology to improve efficiencies. We’ve been very successful with this and been able to save a lot of money, become more productive and efficient as a result.’
Terrorism around the world continues to be a big factor for the airline industry, he noted. ‘Safety and security has become first and foremost in everything that we do – every day, every flight,’ he said.
Director of Safety and Security Captain Peter Schmidt said something that should not be overlooked when talking about 40 years of operation, is safety.
‘We must not overlook what has not happened. Whilst everyone takes a safe operation for granted it takes work every day. It doesn’t happen by itself. It’s often said ‘safety is no accident’.’