Cayman Airways welcomed the first of its “next generation” of jets Friday as it begins the process of upgrading its entire fleet of international aircraft.
Hundreds of well-wishers gathered at the Owen Roberts International Airport as the Boeing 737-800 plane, decked in the livery of the national airline, touched down on Caymanian soil for the first time.
All four of the airline’s aging 737-300 jets, which are between 15 and 20 years old, will be replaced with new “state of the art” aircraft over the next four years.
Airline bosses have claimed the switch will essentially pay for itself, through superior fuel efficiency and greater passenger capacity, and will not result in any increase in government spending on Cayman Airways.
The national flag carrier plans to retire the oldest of its current jets in June next year, meaning it will operate with an enlarged five plane fleet for the next six months.
Ultimately, Cayman Airways aims to switch all its aircraft to new Boeing 737-800 Max planes by 2020. Those planes, the newest model available, are still on the production line.
The Boeing 737-800 plane, which arrived Friday, is intended to bridge the gap until the new aircraft are available.
Premier Alden McLaughlin and Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell, who had spoken at a similar ceremony three days earlier as they welcomed a new turbo-prop Saab plane to service the Brac route, hailed a new era for Cayman Airways.
Mr. McLaughlin said, “I grew up when Cayman Airways was one of the biggest political footballs in the Cayman Islands. For years, there was one argument after another as to why we should get rid of Cayman Airways.
“Driving here today and seeing dozens of cars parked on the road and hundreds of people anxious and excited to see the new plane land, I said to myself, it would be a brave politician these days that would talk about getting rid of Cayman Airways.
“It is an incredible achievement for a country as small as ours that we can boast an airline like Cayman Airways.”
Mr. Kirkconnell said the new plane signaled the arrival of the “next generation” of aircraft.
He said its greater range could open up new “gateway cities” and allow Cayman to expand into new markets.
With new hotels putting new “rooms in the market,” he said investing in Cayman Airways would help ensure the beds were filled and the dollars kept coming in to the tourism industry.
He added, “Investment in Cayman Airways is investment in our people. It provides opportunities for pilots, managers, administrative staff, managerial personnel. By growing Cayman Airways, we are keeping their talents on our islands and creating new jobs right here at home.”