Air Turks and Caicos mulls fleet expansion

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Air Turks and Caicos could become a leading regional carrier in the northern Caribbean in the next several years by introducing US service and eventually upgrading its fleet of 30-seat Embraer EMB-120 turboprops to larger regional jets, says Lyndon Gardiner, chief executive and chairman of the airline's parent company, Interisland Aviation Services.

"We think that we will end up somewhere between the 70-seat and 110-seat aircraft type," says Gardiner.

The chief executive says he is intially planning to build up Air Turks & Caicos' fleet with more EMB-120s, with the goal of expanding into a regional airline. Buying larger aircraft will be inevitable to fulfilling that plan, he says.

"Our strategy going forward is to become the regional carrier for the northwestern Caribbean," says Gardiner. "We feel that we can start growing the business with the 30-seat airplanes and we can offer more frequencies," he adds.

The airline owns 12 EMB-120 aircraft, but only three are currently in service. The carrier will start operating another aircraft after the 32-seat twin emerges from a heavy maintenance check and a new paint job in August, followed by another in October.

The remaining EMB-120s are in storage in Hot Springs, Arkansas and receiving heavy maintenance checks in preparation for deployment into the fleet.

Air Turks & Caicos is still analyzing which aircraft to purchase to replenish its current fleet, but Gardiner mentions that Embraer is high on the list based on the carrier's past positive experiences with the Brazil-based airframer. Gardiner cautions however that an expansion into regional jets would be at least two years away.

He says the carrier intends to receive US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval in the next two years to operate flights to the US. The carrier has regulatory approvals under a Bermuda bilateral agreement to operate small aircraft on routes to several cities, including Baltimore, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, Puerto Rico and Tampa.

Gardiner says the airline plans to target the south Florida market first and could secure authorisation for variants of the Miami and Tampa routes, which could allow the airline to fly to Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando. These routes would operate Thursday through Monday each week. If proven successful, Turks and Caicos could opt to increase those schedules for daily service.

The airline has immediate plans to add a new route to the Dominican Republic capital of Santo Domingo in early 2013.

Air Turks and Caicos currently operates multiple domestic flights to Grand Turk, Provo and South Caicos in the Turks and Caicos islands, plus international routes to Santiago and Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic; Cap Haitian and Port au Prince in Haiti; Nassau, Bahamas; Kingston, Jamaica and charter flights throughout the Caribbean.