CAL still looking at aircraft options

The two Embraer 170 jets that were under consideration for lease by Cayman Airways to enhance airlift into the Cayman Islands for this coming winter season, have been ruled out.

Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford announced this as part of his State of the Industry Address at the eighth Annual Tourism Conference Thursday at the Westin Casuarina Resort.

But negotiations are still ongoing, with two other aircraft options being considered, the Minister said later.

Cayman Airways is engaged in negotiations to acquire additional equipment to supplement airlift to the destination for the winter season.

The Minister said that assuming successful negotiations, ‘Cayman Airways will be able to expand its tourism routes into the United States as well as into Central America, providing new opportunities for tourism from both central and South American countries.’

Airlift to Cayman Brac would be further enhanced with the additional equipment, said the Minister.

‘I can confirm that of the equipment being considered, the Embraer 170s have been eliminated from consideration for this winter season,’ the Minister said.

Later at the post-Cabinet press briefing, when asked about the issue, the Minister said, ”The Embraer 170s were certainly suitable for some of the routes we proposed, but not all of the routes.’

In fact, the Minister said they are still in active negotiations for equipment to ramp up for this winter season.

Explaining why they abandoned the Embraer 170s option the Minister said, ‘When you’re evaluating the aircraft types for specific routes, you have to look at a number of factors.’

He gave an example that when Cayman Airways first started routes like Chicago, the first flight to Chicago was done with a 737-200.

‘That wouldn’t have been the most appropriate aircraft because there are load restrictions on (that aircraft) travelling that distance. Certain times of the year, on hotter days as an example, there’s a much higher fuel burn and so your load restrictions are even further restricted. So, a 737-200 on a Chicago route, as an example, a 114-seater aircraft, could potentially be restricted to a maximum of 90 seats out of Grand Cayman, so all of that has implications on revenue.’

Based on that you have to essentially run the numbers and see whether it works, he said.

Referring to the Embraer 170s, he said, ‘So when the numbers were run on those, the decision was made, very late last (Wednesday) night actually not to pursue that particular option. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not pursuing other options for equipment.’

Supplemental airlift is not off the table, he asserted.

‘The objective for us is to find the most suitable aircraft that can serve the entire network so that you realise those fuel efficiencies.’

Back in May the Minister had announced that two 50-seater Saab turbo prop aircraft were to be acquired, but in June, because of the aviation fuel crisis, he said they were re-evaluating the decision and looking more towards 50 to 70-seater jets.

The Minister said the jets would give more flexibility to access more markets in the US in an aviation climate in which many US airlines are cutting domestic service and therefore access flights to Cayman’s main gateways.

The Minister has said that the jet option would be less expensive than acquiring the Saabs, which were not available for lease and would have had to have been purchased outright.

The private sector, the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, has given its full support to the acquisition of smaller jets and the potential addition of new routes, which, they believe, will boost tourism.

At the tourism conference, the Minister noted that Cayman Airways is engaged in developing a policy for medium to long term fleet planning.

‘These critical steps will protect Cayman Airways’ viability by allowing it to assess its route network utilizing more fuel efficient and scale appropriate equipment, but they will also sustain our tourism industry and the livelihood of those engaged in the sector and by extension the stability of our entire economy.’

The Minister said that faced with a global airline crisis and with so many airlines cutting airlift to the Caribbean, Cayman is leading a Caribbean Tourism Organisation task force looking into increasing airlift to the region.

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