GUYANA AIRLINE DILEMMA

With the upcoming summer peak season just two weeks away, Guyanese aviation authorities are scrambling to woo international airlines to fly to the Caribbean trade bloc nation to help fill a void at Timehri International Airport caused by the early May devastating pullout of Delta Airlines from the popular Georgetown-New York route.

The administration of President Donald Ramotar this week said they will redouble efforts to woo US-owned Jet Blue and even Air China to take up the slack as there are already indications that there will be no seats available to New York by the end of June when schools and universities close and when thousands leave the country to spend time with friends and relatives overseas.

Citing poor passenger loads on its New York-Georgetown run, Delta withdrew its service earlier this month, triggering criticisms from the government which in turn produced figures showing that the airline had in fact been operating with a load factor of more than 80 percent for most of its five years in and out of Guyana.

Airlines officials confirmed that Delta was doing well on the route and remain baffled as to why it abandoned the run, traditionally known as a tough one for operators, given problems with cocaine smuggling, lax aviation security and other problems.

Since the Delta pullout, Trinidad&Tobago-owned Caribbean Airlines has been the only one left that offers non-stop or direct flights to New York via Trinidad.

The carrier said Tuesday that only a handful of seats are now left on the route and it expects these to be gobbled up once schools close for the summer. Round-trip fares average about $800.

Civil Aviation Director Zulfikar Mohamed said the department is willing to expedite applications for start-up services from any credible operators but no such documents have yet been sent to his department.

“We have had no real, tangible interest from any major operators for now, but we are ready if we get any applications to fast forward them,” he said.

His remarks come just days after President Ramotar announced plans to redouble efforts to get increased airlift to the country. He said Jet Blue is showing interest even if barely, Air China is being targeted and Suriname Air which flies from Georgetown to Miami several times weekly is being lobbied to also serve New York as the summer peak approaches.

Asked about the Guyana-Jamaica joint venture Fly Jamaica Airline (FJ), which has an application on file, Mohamed insisted that “they need to supply us with more documentation.” But FJ officials say they beg to differ and scoff at the lukewarm support from Guyanese officials and the Cabinet.

While the two sides differ, FJ is preparing to launch routes to Toronto, Canada, leaving Guyana in the lurch. Mohamed has hinted that officials want to be doubly sure about its finances given the failure of several startups in recent years. Others in the aviation sector say the time has come for an investigation into government-subsidized airlines operations and to determine why there’s such a high rate of failure.

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