Low-cost airline plans Cayman service

A new un-named airline, modelling itself as the Caribbean’s first low-cost carrier, plans to provide service between the Cayman Islands and other islands from perhaps as soon as March of next year.

The airline, which is being set up by a company called AirOne Ventures Limited, with headquarters in Barbados, is aiming to launch service in March or April of next year.

AirOne Commercial Director Tara Playfair says that they are considering whether service to Cayman would be included in the first phase of service and they will know the answer soon.

‘The plan is to have three bases,’ she said. ‘Jamaica, Barbados and Port of Spain [Trinidad & Tobago]’.

They plan to offer direct flights to and from Cayman and these three bases, she said.

They are planning on having all non-stop flights. Other islands they are hoping to service include Grenada, Curacao and Antigua.

‘We are still looking to finalise our route structure,’ she said.

AirOne has not yet contacted the Cayman Islands Civil Aviation Authority in their bid to operate flights here.

Ms Nicoela McCoy, Director of Commercial Affairs Regulation & Administration with the CAA, said they cannot make a comment at this time as they have not received an application for an operating permit from AirOne.

While AirOne is also hoping to provide flights to the US, Ms Playfair said they would have to look specifically at whether it would be feasible to provide flights between Grand Cayman and the US, and if it was to happen it would come later down the line.

The airline has modelled itself on such successful European low cost carriers as Ryanair and Easyjet and hopes to offer fares as low as US$10 or at least 40 to 70 per cent cheaper than existing airlines.

This would allow tourists to travel for less in the Caribbean, but also allow for Caribbean residents to travel between islands for less.

The company has done quite a bit of market research in its planning stages, said Ms Playfair.

‘We found that within the Caribbean there is a strong desire to explore other Caribbean islands, whether it be to look for employment, or people may have worked on an island before and would like to return to visit, and up to now between cost and availability of flights its been prohibitive, so we want to offer both good value and convenience to the customer,’ she said.

Interestingly, the research showed that while Jamaicans chose North American cities as their destination of choice, those from other islands chose Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, Cayman and St. Lucia as their top five.

The airline will operate on the basis that people will get what they pay for.

‘We’re not rolling out luxuries such as in-flight movies, champagne or blankets,’ said Ms Playfair.

Through their research they have found what works for other low cost European carriers, such as concentrating on getting people to a place safely, on time, with their bags. ‘We’re focusing on that,’ she said.

If someone wants a soda or a sandwich during the trip they will pay extra, but prices will not be pumped up, she said.

They will be all about efficiency, she added, and won’t be in the habit of delaying a flight to wait for one late passenger.

Although it is a difficult time for the airline industry with soaring fuel costs, Ms Playfair said the low fare airlines tend to make money during these times because they are attractive to passengers who don’t have to pay for frills or extras.

The company has done market research in order to get a name for the airline. ‘We have now narrowed it down to two and in six to eight weeks we hope to have a name,’ she said.

The company has a good relationship with phone company Digicel and one way it is planning on selling plane tickets is through Digicel outlets for cash. ‘Not everyone has a credit card,’ said Ms Playfair. ‘We are targeting people who have never travelled before because they couldn’t afford to, so it would be helpful if they could pay with cash. We’re about convenience,’ she said.

Ms Playfair said she is really excited about the prospect of the Caribbean having its own low cost carrier. ‘I really want the Caribbean to have the same opportunities that exist across the rest of the world,’ she said.

AirOne plans to grow its fleet of two 737-700 160-seat planes into about 25 passenger aircraft.

The Ministry of Tourism, responsible for aviation matters, had not responded to questions on AirOne’s plans to fly here by press time.