GUYANA AIRLIFT BOOST

When U.S. mega carrier Delta pulled out of Guyana 13 months ago, passengers traveling to there were left to the mercy of Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines on the Georgetown-New York and American Eastern Seaboard routes.

Fares which normally hovered at around $800 for the five and a half hour flight between the two cities skyrocketed in some cases up to $1,400, triggering outrage and charges by the Guyanese tourism ministry of exploitation by a monopoly.

Top officials from CA even traveled to Guyana for talks with top officials, made almost amendments to fares and won widespread plaudits from passengers when the Caribbean trade bloc’s leading carrier commenced, regular non-stop, round flights between the two cities, sparing Guyanese passengers from annoying stopovers in Trinidad.

Now the aviation landscape is about to change for the better, with serious competition looming on the summer horizon.

Three new airlines, Panamanian flag carrier, COPA Airlines, Insel Air, the Dutch Caribbean’s main symbol in the skies operating out of Curacao and Dynamic Air out of New York are set to compete with Caribbean Air and Fly Jamaica this summer.

Upstart carrier, Fly Jamaica which appeared on the aviation horizon last spring is about to celebrate a full trouble-free year operating between Guyana, Jamaica, New York and Canada.

It is owned by veteran Guyanese aviator Captain Ronald Reece and Jamaican Captain Lloyd Tai and has designs on other routes including South American markets like Brazil and Suriname. It recently bought a Boeing 767 in addition to a 757 it had acquired at start up.

As the summer peak gets going albeit even slowly, Insel Air rolled out its Guyana-Dutch Caribbean service mid last week to much fanfare, opening new routes to tourists and the business community which up until now, had to endure overnight transits or lengthy stopovers in Trinidad, Venezuela and other destinations to get to Dutch Caribbean cities like Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba in a matter of hours rather than a day.

COPA, meanwhile, which is widely regarded as the Central American aviation bully, is set to begin its Georgetown flights in mid July, opening up easy access to exotic destinations like Cuba, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico and others. These would have been previously accessed via Miami, in many cases by way of overnight sleepovers there.

Dynamic on the other hand was scheduled to commence service this week out of New York. It is more of a chartered service, which is being adapted to work the Guyana route on a scheduled basis.

As passengers and tourism officials watch on with excitement, one thing is becoming clear and that is there is now more competition on the routes and fares are expected to fall as people such as Tourism Minister Irfaan Ali and Airports Authority Chief Ramesh Dookhoo predict.

“We are against predatory pricing and we saw that last year. That is one of the reasons why Delta had pulled out, citing predatory pricing by Caribbean until it had captured the market then took fares right back up. That should cease now,” Dookhoo told this publication this week.

And even though passengers are expected to be happier than a year ago when Delta quit without explanation, the aviation scene is a far cry from the late 70s and 80s when mega players such as British Airways, Pan American, Air France, Air Canada, TWA, KLM and others had regular services to the country but pulled out as foreign exchange dried up and as authorities experimented with socialism.

“We don’t want those one-man, one plane services which start up, stop and disappear anymore,” said Dookhoo. Minister Ali says that “the missing link to better services and more carriers could be had when 3000 feet is added to the main runway and when the new terminal is built.” This highly controversial project is slated to cost around $150M and mostly funded and to be constructed by the Chinese.

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