Cayman Airways will begin flying direct to Denver in March as the national airline seeks new horizons in the western United States.
The new route was announced at twin press conferences in Colorado and Grand Cayman Monday with flights scheduled twice weekly from next year. Grand Cayman will be the only Caribbean island with a direct route from Denver.
Tourism and airline bosses said the new route was part of a strategy to target increased tourism from cities on the West Coast. A second flight, either to Los Angeles or San Francisco, is also under consideration, though reaching either destination would require lengthening of the runway at the Owen Roberts International Airport, something that is scheduled to happen within the next few years.
Phillip Rankin, chairman of the Cayman Airways board, said the airline’s new fleet of Boeing 737-800 Max aircraft, the first of which arrives in November, have the range to fly anywhere in the U.S., as far south as Brazil and even to London, via Bermuda.
He said the Denver route was the first example of what the upgraded jets would allow the airline to achieve.
Fabian Whorms, CEO of Cayman Airways, said the airline would be looking at further route expansion in the near future.
“There will be further movement towards the west,” he said. “That is where the future of Cayman Airways lies. It will lie with longer missions, direct flights giving us a competitive advantage over other destinations that will not have direct flights from these more distant gateways.”
Officials believe the East Coast of the U.S. is now well covered by a variety of airlines, including Cayman Airways.
The national carrier plans to pull out of Dallas, Texas, with three other airlines now flying to Cayman from that state. It has also reduced the number of flights to Miami and Cuba as demand has reduced on those routes.
The Denver route will launch with introductory prices of just over US$500 and cut the flight time from Denver to Cayman to five hours.
Officials acknowledge it is unlikely to be profitable for the airline in the early stages.
Mr. Whorms said it was considered a “strategic tourism” route, meaning it is subsidized by government because it fits with the Ministry of Tourism’s strategy of attracting new visitors to the island.
He added, “From the country’s side, from day one, it will be profitable. There is an economic return from the visitors coming to our shores.”
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said Colorado is the fastest-growing state for scuba diving and home to the sixth largest population of divers in the U.S., according to industry research.
He added, “We calculated that there is tremendous opportunity in the western U.S. Denver is our first gateway, and I emphasize the word first.”
He said it would also make it easier for travelers from cities like Vancouver, Seattle and Los Angeles to reach Grand Cayman by connecting through Denver.
Mr. Kirkconnell said the route would not require additional investment from the Cayman Islands government, which already supports the airline to the tune of $17.9 million a year.
“The profit center is the island,” he said, emphasizing the strategy of using the national airline as a tool to drive visitation.
Michael B. Hancock, the mayor of Denver, said the new route would also create opportunities for business and tourism partnerships between the two destinations.
“We thank Cayman Airways for investing in our community and we are pleased to welcome them as the first Caribbean based airline to serve Denver,” he said in a statement.
Starting March 2, 2019, flights will leave Grand Cayman at 8 a.m., arriving in Denver at 11 a.m. local time. The return flight will depart Denver at 12:15 p.m., arriving in Grand Cayman at 7:15 p.m. local time. The schedule will move up an hour when the clocks change in the U.S.
Flights will run on Wednesdays and Saturdays from December through August.