Cayman Airways has added a new 34-seat turboprop plane to its fleet amid high hopes that it will help spark a tourism revival on Cayman Brac.
The plane, a Saab 340/Bplus model, will make its inaugural flight next month and will service the route between Grand Cayman and the Brac.
The aircraft, decked out in the livery of the national airline, touched down at Owen Roberts International Airport for the first time on Friday.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said the acquisition, initially on a lease agreement with an option to buy for around $2 million, would be a vital tool in revitalizing the Brac economy.
He said adding airlift into the island is key to increasing visitation and encouraging development.
“This is the dawning of a new development cycle and a new ease of comfort and travel to Cayman Brac,” he added.
The 14-seat Twin Otter planes previously used on the route will still be used to fly into Little Cayman.
A 30-seat Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia, leased along with its crew on a temporary arrangement with Turks and Caicos-based InterCaribbean Airways, has been used on the route as an interim measure since October 2014.
Fabian Whorms, CEO of Cayman Airways, said the new aircraft would be flown and crewed by CAL staff. He said the Embraer had always been intended as a temporary measure.
The Saab, built in the late 1990s, was primarily used by Delta and Northwest Airlines in the U.S. as well as a brief stint in Australia. Mr. Whorms sad it has an estimated 25 years of useful life remaining.
“It has been through an extensive degree of testing, maintenance and refurbishment. It is in pristine condition,” he said.
Schedule changes associated with the increase in plane size have been in place since late last year and have already resulted in a 20 percent increase in traffic to and from the Brac, Mr. Kirkconnell added.
Philip Rankin, chairman of the CAL board of directors, said the ideal scenario would be to purchase a second, similar plane that could be used as backup on the Brac route and increase the airline’s options for smaller regional flights to Jamaica and Cuba.