Western Air targets abandoned Air Jamaica routes

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Bahamian carrier Western Air seeks to grow its scheduled international network beyond two forthcoming Jamaican routes being abandoned by Air Jamaica.

The carrier provides scheduled service in the Bahamas and charter service in the Caribbean but aims to convert several international charters into scheduled service as it prepares to inaugurate new flights from Nassau to Kingston and Montego Bay in April.

Western Air has received regulatory approval to launch once daily weekday and Sunday service between Nassau and Kingston, a route Air Jamaica is expected to discontinue on 12 April in advance of a pending sale to Caribbean Airlines.

Due to space limitations at the Nassau airport, Western Air must wait for Air Jamaica to exit the facility before it can start the city pair, carrier captain and director of operations Wolf Seyfert says, adding that Western Air is tentatively counting on a 13 April launch.

Western Air also plans to operate Air Jamaica's discontinued Montego Bay-Nassau service, which is also slated to end by 12 April.

The Nassau-Montego Bay connections, which are contingent on Jamaican government approval, should begin 30 April, he says.

Privately-held Western Air also intends to convert its charter operations from the Bahamas to the Dominican Republic and Haiti into scheduled service to "build a regional network", says Seyfert.

Western Air's Port-au-Prince operations remain uncertain due to the earthquake that struck Haiti in January, and Santo Domingo service is contingent upon the Bahamas issuing new visa requirements for Dominican passengers, Seyfert says.

Currently the Bahamas requires Dominicans visiting the country for business or leisure to have visas, which are difficult to obtain, Seyfert explains. He notes that state-owned Bahamasair previously operated between the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, but dropped the service due to the impact of visa challenges for Dominican passengers.

Western Air is pushing the Bahamian tourism ministry to create a visa for short-term visitors.

In the interim, Western Air has applied for fifth freedom rights between Jamaica and Haiti, and will soon apply for fifth freedom rights between Jamaica and the Dominican Republic to launch scheduled service from Kingston to Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince.

Western Air would like to grow its fleet of four Saab 340As by two aircraft by the end of the third quarter. According to Western Air's website, the carrier currently operates four Saab 340As, eight Fairchild Metro III aircraft, one Piper Chieftain and one Fairchild Merlin 4C. The company has also acquired three Beech 1900C turboprops for its on demand charter subsidiary Vision Air.

"At the moment there's not many aircraft available in the market," Seyfert says, noting that operators tend to keep their leased 340As beyond initial return dates. "We have tentatively identified two aircraft. [They] should have been returned on leases in November 2009 but [they] keep doing short-term leases."