Cayman Airways welcomed the third 737-300 jet to its fleet Tuesday afternoon, in which Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford emphasised the importance of the national carrier in the aviation industry crisis climate.
Noting that escalating oil prices are causing airlines to cut back on staff and flights in the Caribbean, Minister Clifford said, ‘But because we face this crisis we need to ensure as best as we can that we have reliable and efficient airlift into our Cayman Islands and the way we do that is through supporting Cayman Airways.
‘We have heard some talk about the cost of keeping Cayman Airways and while the government understands that, we also recognise that the cost of not having Cayman Airways is a lot greater.’
Minister Clifford has recently been appointed chairman on a Caribbean Tourism Organisation sub-committee on Identifying the Role, Composition and Future of Regional Airlines, which came out of an emergency CTO meeting to discuss the airline crisis and the impact that the high unprecedented oil prices has had on the industry.
It is anticipated that regional governmental and airline officials will convene in Grand Cayman later this month to participate in this important discussion, said a GIS press release.
The new plane, VP-CKW, named Spirit of Miami, was leased in May and was painted in the new Cayman Airways livery before being flown into Cayman.
Mr. Clifford said people may question why CAL is acquiring a new aircraft when the airline industry is in crisis.
He said the 737-300s, which have been brought in as a gradual replacement of the 737-200s, are more efficient. He also said customers can expect better scheduling opportunities to come available.
But the airline is also different to other airlines in that it serves as a primary economic driver for the country, providing an air bridge to the Sister Islands and an insurance policy in the event of a disaster such as a hurricane, he said.
Speaking about the CTO emergency meeting held in Antigua last week, the Minister said, ‘And I can tell you that in particular the Eastern Caribbean is in for some very, very difficult challenges as we see American Airlines reducing their flights into and out of Puerto Rico, particularly American Eagle flights, by 50 per cent, and the laying off of some 350 workers in Puerto Rico alone.’
Delta and North West are to enter a merger to try to survive the crisis and British Airways, American Airlines and Continental Airlines are entering into a joint marketing partnership to try to mitigate the impact of this pending crisis.
The presentation given in Antigua from consultants hired by CTO, indicated that this crisis is likely to be around for four to five years, he said. ‘And indeed they were saying this is the worst crisis that the airline industry has faced in 30 years.’
Mr. Clifford’s sub-committee is one of four that have been charged with considering key issues and preparing recommendations for further review during the CTO’s Annual Caribbean Tourism Summit) in Washington, DC, during 21-24 June.
The three other sub-committees established by CTO will look at revenue guarantees for airlines, marketing initiatives for Caribbean Tourism and enhancing the use of airport hub systems in the region.
During ACTS, the results of the sub-committees’ deliberations will be discussed with the aim of adopting a unified position to be advocated in key forums such as the upcoming meeting of CARICOM, of which the Cayman Islands is an associate member.
‘Unprecedented increases in fuel pries are already negatively impacting airlift in the Caribbean, which is so highly dependent on tourism revenues,’ said Mr. Clifford
‘Broad-based mitigation plans are being actively worked on by the 32 members of CTO. During the emergency meeting last week it was agreed that in such a volatile environment, regional airlines will play an increasingly important role in creating stable and affordable air bridges that facilitate the tourism which underpins the majority of economies in the region.’
Mr. Clifford cautioned that the regional tourism industry faces unprecedented threats that are building into the perfect storm.
‘Consumer confidence is dropping, fuel prices are increasing and credit is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. The member countries of the CTO and regional airlines will not just have to work harder but also smarter than ever before just to survive this hostile climate.’
Prior to attending the meeting, the MoT Chief Officer Mrs. Gloria McField-Nixon met with the executive committee of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, the Department of Tourism and Cayman Airways to receive input and recommendations.
The CITA has advised that advanced bookings suggest relatively strong summer and fall seasons in 2008. The private sector organisation pledged continued cooperation to deliver positive results on behalf of the destination even as external threats continue to grow.
At the aircraft welcome ceremony Chairperson of Cayman Airways Board of Directors Angelyn Hernandez noted the importance of enhancing customer service levels in the face of a highly competitive airline industry.
The Minister encouraged CAL employees to embrace the PRIDE customer service programme, saying it is excellent customer service that will differentiate Cayman Airways from other regional and international carriers.
The new airplane, with eight business class and 114 economy seats, has leather seats and expanded cabin bins.
It is being leased from ILFC and previously was operated by Air One in Italy.