Air Jamaica abandons Cayman

Cash strapped Air Jamaica is ceasing service between Jamaica and Grand Cayman next month.

Effective 23 February, Air Jamaica will exit Grand Cayman as part of a cost saving measure to reduce losses.

‘We’re trying to get Air Jamaica to a point where it is cash break even,’ said President and CEO Bruce Nobles over the phone Wednesday morning. ‘So we’re eliminating some places that we like to fly and have been flying to a long time.’

He said strategy includes exiting loss-making markets and confirmed the Cayman route is not profitable for the airline.

Other routes being cut include Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami. It will discontinue service between Jamaica and Barbados and Jamaica and Grenada.

This will result in the closure of the affected stations and reductions in the workforce.

Mr. Nobles said there is one employee in Grand Cayman, the station manager.

‘His position will be made redundant and whether there is any other opportunity for him within Air Jamaica, I don’t know; we have haven’t made those decisions yet,’ he said.

Air Jamaica’s 2009 Business Plan is designed to respond to the global economic downturn; quickly stem the substantial cash losses at the company and position the airline on a path to financial stability going forward, stated the airline.

‘This is a pivotal year for Air Jamaica, as we must become a lean and efficient airline to survive these difficult times,’ said Mr. Nobles.

The airline’s fleet will be reduced from 15 to nine aircraft.

Air Jamaica only services Grand Cayman with two return flights a week; on Friday and Sunday.

However, Cayman Airways currently provides service to Jamaica every day of the week, with two flights a day on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Cayman Airways confirmed that it has no plans at this time to increase its service into Jamaica.

Honorary Jamaican Consul for the Cayman Islands, Robert Hamaty explained that Air Jamaica reduced its schedule to Cayman many months ago and Cayman Airways responded with increase frequency. ‘At present there are adequate seats available by CAL. It will not affect the airlift required,’ he said.

Mr. Nobles said the last flight out of Grand Cayman would be on Sunday, 22 February, and that those with Air Jamaica tickets beyond this would have their money refunded.

‘We’re also working with Cayman Airways to re-accommodate passengers,’ he said.

Honorary Jamaican Vice Consul for the Cayman Islands Elaine Harris said, ‘It’s very disappointing that they’re no longer going to service the route. It’s always good to have some degree of competition in any market.

‘We do realise the logistics of them doing so. The service has been irregular for some time. I just hope they’ll resume service when it’s feasible for them to do so.’

Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford commented that Air Jamaica’s withdrawal from the Cayman market will have little, if any, negative effect on tourism here.

‘This is because Air Jamaica does not serve our tourism market…The majority of the passengers on those flights are Jamaican and Caymanian residents travelling back and forth primarily for business and labour purposes.’

He said that Air Jamaica’s announcement could potentially have a positive impact on Cayman’s tourism industry.

‘This is because some travellers who were bound for Jamaica and other Caribbean countries that were served by Air Jamaica will now find it more difficult to get flights into those countries and might instead vacation in Cayman.’

Mr. Clifford said he had predicted this scenario some months ago and now it has happened.

‘Already some countries in the eastern Caribbean are reaching out for assistance with airlift from Cayman Airways and while we sympathise with our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean, Cayman Airways has limited capacity and our obligation is first and foremost to the Cayman Islands.

‘Having said that, we will do what we can to assist them, particularly during the summer months when we may have some spare capacity due to decreased flights into our winter markets.’

Minister Clifford said he does not believe there is a danger that other carriers might pull out of the Cayman market.

‘People who are not familiar with the tourism industry might not appreciate that the Cayman Islands tourism market is significantly different from the Jamaican market. We are not a mass tourism market and the airlines flying here are doing well with their load factors and presumably their yields as well. What we may see is the usual adjustment to frequencies based on demand but I think that’ll be the extent of the impact.’

He added that as Cayman’s tourism industry is performing better than most of its regional competitors in these challenging times, it is in a better position to maintain current airlift. ‘Of course Cayman Airways is here, as always, to fill any gaps that might occur.’

Mr. Nobles said Air Jamaica will still offer 218 weekly flights serving 14 destinations such as New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Toronto, Chicago, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Nassau, Cuba and Curacao as well as service between New York and Barbados and New York and Grenada.