Hondurans stranded again

Passengers from Honduras have again found themselves stranded in Cayman after Atlantic Airlines failed to operate its flights.

The airline’s last flight was on Thursday, 5 February. Passengers who had tickets for 6 February and for Monday morning, 9 February, arrived at the airport to find no representatives there and no one at the airline’s office.

Nicoela McCoy, the Civil Aviation Authority’s director of commercial affairs, said the airline no longer has a permit to fly into Cayman.

‘Atlantic Airlines had an operating permit we issued to them, which expired on 29 January,’ she said.

Passengers say they have heard from Honduras the airline has closed down. Its licence to operate was temporarily revoked in December by the Honduran Civil Aviation Authority but was later restored.

Repeated phone calls to the airline’s office in Cayman and Honduras by the Caymanian Compass went unanswered.

Friday’s passengers, finding that their flight did not exist, went to George Town police station to complain and met with officers from the Financial Crime Unit.

Police spokeswoman Deborah Denis said that the FCU found the airline had not committed any crimes here. ‘There was certainly some bad business practice, but there was nothing criminal we could find.’

Josselin Serella Guillen, 15, was supposed to fly home to Honduras on Monday morning, after spending Christmas and her school break with her mother in Cayman, but now has no idea how she can get back home in time to resume school on Monday.

Her mother Vilma Guillen, who works in Cayman, said passengers began hearing on 31 January that the airline might not fly and that there may be no flights in February.

When she contacted Atlantic Airlines earlier this month, she said she was told that there were problems in Honduras which the airline was trying to resolve.

‘I’ve heard the office in Honduras is closed and so is the office in Cayman,’ she said.

But Atlantic Airlines insisted that it had not closed and was operating ‘stronger than ever’.

The airline’s vice president of planning and marketing, Bill Lara, said it planned to operate an AVRO 48-seater aircraft this week, and with a 122-seater jet aircraft next week.

He said: ‘We needed to restructure our domestic organisation in Honduras, domestic flights were losing [heavily] and we were forced to maintain losing rates to stay in the market.

‘We have now completed our restructuring and new staff and management are beginning to take over. We expect that in the next three weeks our recovery will be completed and our jet fleet will be in full operation.’

He said that the airline was in the process of renewing its operating licence into Cayman and expected the first flight this week to depart either late Tuesday or Wednesday morning, if Cayman’s CAA approved it.

Mr. Lara said the reason people were unable to contact staff at the offices in Cayman or Honduras was because staff in Honduras had moved offices and staff in Cayman had been away on company business.

If the flights do not resume, the Honduran visitors will be forced to try to extend their visas to remain in Cayman.

Atlantic Airlines was the only airline flying between Cayman and Honduras. Rollins Air and Cayman Airways are both attempting to secure routes to Honduras, but so far the Honduran Civil Aviation Authority has not granted either of them a licence to fly.

Olivia Scott-Ramirez, manager of corporate communications at Cayman Airways, said that as of Monday, the airline had not received approval from the Honduran government for its application to operate regular flights to various cities in Honduras.

Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford said Cayman Airways was on the verge of starting a route to Honduras.

‘Cayman Airways is ready to start service to Honduras as soon as the Honduran Civil Aviation Authority issues our permit to operate that route.

‘We are continuing to work with the authorities in Honduras to secure our permits and we hope to have the matter resolved this week,” he said

The Honduran passengers stranded in Cayman have few, and expensive, options to return home. They can fly to Miami, but will need to get visas to enter the United States, or they can fly via Cuba.

Ms Guillen’s employer Miriam Foster said: ‘If we send Josselin to Cuba, the ticket is about $1,000, and she would have to stay overnight. It’s not safe for a young girl to travel alone and spend the night in Cuba without us being able to contact her.’

Ms Gillen said she knew of at least 50 Hondurans who are stranded in Cayman.

A similar situation involving Atlantic Airlines occurred in mid-December when the airline’s licence was temporarily revoked. Then, passengers converged on Atlantic Airways office and at the Legislative Assembly to demand help. That situation was resolved with Atlantic Airlines’ licence being reinstated.