Cayman Airways will replace its fleet of aging jets with four new “state of the art” aircraft over the next four years.
Government has approved a “fleet modernization plan” for the national airline to replace the four 737-300 jets, which are between 15 and 20 years old, with new 737-8Max planes, straight off the Boeing production line.
Tourism and airline leaders said the switch would essentially pay for itself and will not result in any increase in the government contributions to Cayman Airways, which totaled $23 million at the last budget.
Cayman Airways CEO Fabian Whorms said the superior fuel efficiency, lower operational costs and greater passenger capacity of the new planes made the switch affordable.
Philip Rankin, chairman of the airline’s board of directors, added, “Based on our projections, from maintenance savings and fuel alone we can more than pay for the lease on these aircraft.”
The 737-8Max planes have 40 more seats and burn 20 percent less fuel than the 300-series, according to Mr. Whorms.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said the new jets would significantly expand the reach of the airline, potentially enabling it to open up new routes, direct from the west coast of the U.S.
He said upgrading the fleet would position Cayman Airways to take advantage of an anticipated boom in tourism arrivals and improve its bottom line.
With new developments, including the Kimpton Hotel, Margaritaville and Dart’s planned five-star hotel on Seven Mile Beach in the works, he said there was a 20 percent increase in “room stock” expected.
He added, “We want to put them in a position to be successful for the growth that is coming.”
Neither Mr. Kirkconnell nor Mr. Rankin would say how much they expect the annual lease arrangement to cost in advance of the procurement process, through the Central Tenders Committee. The planes cost between $90 and $110 million to buy, according to Boeing’s website.
Mr. Whorms said the technical advances made by Boeing in developing the next generation of 737 aircraft made the arrangement possible.
“We are at a time in history where technology is bringing costs down and we are able to take advantage of that,” he said.
“These planes are completely state of the art.”
He said the model was designed to deliver a level of reliability that was unprecedented.
Cayman Airways has been plagued by delays in recent years, largely caused by maintenance issues with its fleet. Mr. Whorms said the new aircraft would mean a “75 percent reduction” in delays.
“This positions us at the front of the pack when it comes to equipment … Because of the significant improvement in reliability, we will be able to do a lot more with less.”
He said the additional cargo space also created potential business opportunities for Cayman Airways.
The airline will bring a different Boeing 800 series plane into service in November as an interim measure, and intends to replace the full fleet of 737-300s on a phased timetable between 2018 and 2020.
By 2020, the airline will have a full fleet of four 737-8Max aircraft.
Cayman Airways purchased three of its 737-300 aircraft, which it had previously leased, in 2014. Mr. Rankin said the decision made sense at that time because the cost to buy the planes was significantly lower than the lease cost over a five-year period.
He said it had always been the plan to replace the planes with more modern aircraft as they were due for “retirement,” though he said there was still interest from other airlines in purchasing them from CAL.