Air Jamaica, which has been transformed since privatisation four years ago, is continuing to expand by adding new routes to the USA and starting a St Lucia-based regional carrier. It also plans to add three more Airbuses to its fleet, which has been replaced since local businessman Gordon "Butch" Stewart bought the government's majority stake in 1995. Stewart inherited a collection of ageing Boeing 727s and Airbus A300s and has replaced these with Airbus A320s, A321s, A340s and Boeing MD-83s.

Marketing and sales vice-president Allen Chasternet says flights to Phoenix will begin next summer, with services to Houston to follow in 2001. In addition, Air Jamaica will increase the frequency of its flights from Los Angeles to Jamaica from five a week to daily all year round, with another three flights a week in the holiday season.

The new subsidiary, EC Express, will connect St Lucia, Grenada, St Vincent, Tobago, Dominica and Barbados, feeding passengers to the Barbados-USA flights for which Air Jamaica is the US Government's designated carrier.

The carrier's other subsidiary, Air Jamaica Express, also plans to expand its operations to destinations such as Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos islands, as well as increasing its flights to Havana. The islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, as well as Guyana on the South American mainland, are being eyed.

Chastenet admits that when the airline was privatised, its reputation was "pretty horrendous. They used to say that if you saw an Air Jamaica aircraft, you didn't know whether it was yesterday's aircraft, last week's or last year's," he says.

Since then, the company has made strides to improve reliability and service. "The American public does not view us in the same light as a US carrier, but the travel agents do; they recommend us without reservations. The alliance with Delta also gives us great credibility," he says. Market share has increased from 38% to 63% from New York and 20% to 50% via Miami.

The traditionally loss-making carrier aims to break even by next year and record its first profit. It says it is 2% over its revenue targets for this year. Chasternet says that tourists make up around half its passengers.

Outside the USA and Caribbean, the airline flies to London and has routes to France and Germany. It says it will consider activating these only if the Jamaican Government provides more support in the way of marketing.

Source: Airline Business