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HomeNewsLocal NewsIs interCaribbean Airways' continued expansion an answer to intra-regional travel issues?

Is interCaribbean Airways’ continued expansion an answer to intra-regional travel issues?

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by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Since the announcement of flight service to St. Kitts and Nevis from interCaribbean Airways starting on March 12, 2023, people have been wondering where did this airline come from, especially in the wake of the ongoing discussion about the need for improved intra-regional travel.

Founder and Chairman of Lyndon Gardiner, born in North Caicos – Turks & Caicos, started interCaribbean Airways as InterIsland Airways in 1991 with a small four-seater out of necessity and operating on-demand charters in the Northern Caribbean and 31 years later, the airline will be servicing most of the Caribbean.

After the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, interCaribbean had the opportunity to fill a gap in the travel options in the south Caribbean with service between Barbados to St Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada, Dominica and Antigua, and a year later, the addition of Georgetown, Guyana.

As of March 12, the expanding airline will start service to St. Kitts and Nevis.

WINN reached out to interCaribbean and had the opportunity to speak with its CEO Trevor Sadler in an exclusive interview where he shared plans for further growth of the airline within the region. Sadler said the airline would try to meet the region’s needs based on the demand.

“We recognise that it’s partly the return of the market that was there before we entered. This new renaissance is partly everyone wants to get up and get going places again after a couple of years of sitting at home waiting to do something. For us now, it is that we’re now onboarding large airplanes by way of the ATR42, which is a 48 aircraft. And we take delivery momentarily of our first ATR 72 with 68 seats. We are in the process of transitioning from the 30-seat airplane up to the 48 and the 68-seat airplane… and our fourth Embraer 145 jet, a 50-seat airplane, joins us here this coming week. So we’re onboarding additional flying assets to help us both to expand the schedule and then, in turn, to begin to take the steps to expand destinations.”

The airline is the only privately owned airline in the Caribbean to service 27 destinations. Sadler expressed where he feels the airline is placed in the market.

“I do believe there’s [the] opportunity for further connectivity to and from St. Kitts. So I think the first [thing] is to enter the market. Let’s see how the market responds to us and, in turn, a step at a time, begin the process to grow frequency and then destinations… Our flights start off from Havana to the West and pick up just about everything except for the US Virgin Islands and the French Caribbean islands; at this point, those are the only points we are not serving. We hope to enter into Trinidad; that would be basically five islands that we haven’t entered into service yet.”

The CEO gave a snapshot of how the airline began helping to fill the gap LIAT left.

“In July of 2020, we were speaking with the governments of the Eastern Caribbean to talk about us coming into the marketplace and, in turn, how we would be able to serve some of those markets. LIAT had withdrawn back to Antigua, and of course, Barbados and the surrounding islands had now an air service gap – there wasn’t any. We didn’t have any exclusivity in terms of the invitation to enter the market. So we were joined, in fact, by three other airlines, Air Antilles, Caribbean Airlines, and a company called One Caribbean, also based out of Barbados.”

The airline enjoyed for a time the CARICOM bubble before its collapse. The failure of the bubble did not stop interCaribbean from using the opportunity and connections to continue expansion.

When asked about competitive pricing during the discussion, the CEO says it is not that the airfare is too expensive; the taxes imposed by the islands contribute to the weight of ticket prices.

“There’s always a lot of conversation and studies; you know, we regard some of these studies as having no purpose because it’s very clear you to know that people can only afford to travel as they need, based on the burden that taxation makes on top of travel. If it was that the taxes were shrunk in half, it would already be a good start. What we advocate for is a regional taxation scheme… because travel in our region is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.”

The solution Sadler gave to the taxation issue was to have the governments in the region implement an agreed-upon regional airfare tax across the board, even at about 50 percent of what taxes are right now and would increase the demand for airlift in the Caribbean.

Chairman of the Monetary Council of the ECCB and Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Hon. Phillip J Pierre said taxation, as it relates to intra-regional travel, is on the table, but there are limitations to what can be done.

“These discussions are ongoing. But taxation policy is normally an internal affair; the government decide on their own fiscal measures. But you see, many governments took loans to build their airports based on taxes, and they have to pay back these loans. So it may be difficult to get a uniform tax rate as it relates to air travel… everything is on the table, but I can’t give you a definitive response to say yes, taxation is going to be one of the measures; but everything’s on the table. But what I can tell you is many governments have taken loans to build new airports or to improve the airports based on taxes on air travel. But this is something that we are looking at, but there’s nothing on the team as far as what direction they will take, as far as taxation is concerned, but it is being looked at.”

In 2023, interCaribbean Airways will be adding to its fleet while continuously enhancing its customer service and schedule options providing greater passenger comfort and convenience, as has been the task of Caribbean travellers in recent years.

The fleet of interCaribbean Airways will continue to increase as the CEO feels that by providing people within the region with more opportunities to fly, the demand will meet the supply. The airline is working on securing additional aircraft with a seating capacity for 48 and 68 individuals while slowly decommissioning the fleet of 30 seaters.

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