Venezuela's Santa Barbara wins authority for US services

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Venezuelan carrier Santa Barbara Airlines has won US authority to launch flights on wet-leased aircraft to Fort Lauderdale, paving the way for the planned June introduction of daily services from both Caracas and Maracaibo.

Santa Barabara plans to wet lease from Spirit Airlines a McDonnell Douglas MD-88 to provide the new services. As part of the planned joint venture between Santa Barbara and Fort Lauderdale-based Spirit, the two carriers will also codeshare on Spirit-operated connecting flights from Fort Lauderdale to several cities in the Northeast and Midwest USA.

According to Miami-based consultant John MacDonald, Santa Barbara will be responsible for sales in Venezuela while Spirit will sell tickets to Venezuela throughout the USA.

With US Department of Transportation authority now in hand, Santa Barbara expects to have its wet lease deal finalized with Spirit by 8 March, says MacDonald. He is an executive vice president of Aviation Management Services, the Miami-based firm that has been hired by Santa Barbara to plan for the introduction of US services.

MacDonald says Santa Barbara plans to launch both the Caracas and Maracaibo flights “on or about June 15”. He adds Santa Barbara will have full use of one MD-88, which Spirit will retrofit to add legroom and accommodate larger galleys.

Once the aircraft is retrofitted, MacDonald says it will seat about 150 passengers and be capable of serving hot meals.

Santa Barbara will have to overcome new competition from American Airlines, which launched service to Maracaibo from Miami earlier this month. On the other route, Santa Barbara will be one of several operators flying between South Florida and Caracas, including American and Venezuelan carriers Avensa and Aeropostal, all of which serve Miami.

Venezuelan regional carrier Avior has also sought authority to launch service from Maracaibo to South Florida with aircraft operated by Miami Air. But MacDonald says Santa Barbara is talking to Avior about instead forging a possible joint venture on the new Spirit-operated Fort Lauderdale service.

Santa Barbara hopes it can differentiate its service by flying into less congested Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami and codesharing with Spirit to such destinations as Detroit, New York and Chicago. In addition, MacDonald points out Santa Barbara will cater to Venezuelan leisure travelers who are familiar with Santa Barbara’s domestic services rather than US business travelers, which are the main focus of American.

In a filing responding to the Santa Barbara application, Aeropostal says it does not oppose the request but only if it is granted similar authority.

In its 5 March ruling, the DOT noted Aeropostal has never requested to serve Fort Lauderdale.

“Should such a request be filed, we will consider it at that time,” the DOT says. “In the circumstance presented, however, we see no reason to withhold the requested authority from Santa Barbara.”

The authority is effective immediately through 5 March 2002. Santa Barbara is prohibited from operating its own aircraft with its new authority because Venezuela has a category II rating under the US FAA safety assessment program. Carriers based in category II countries can only launch new services to the USA if they wet lease equipment from airlines based in category I-rated countries.