BWIA International Airways is linking with its Caribbean neighbour, Air Jamaica, to help cut costs and consolidate its position in the region. The two airlines have signed a memorandum of understanding to move forward with an "operating partnership" which could eventually lead to fleet and route integration.

"The partnership is initially focused on areas which will result in substantial short-term cost savings, but will be more wide-ranging in the long term," says recently appointed chairman Ken Gordon.

The link will initially involve the two airlines co-operating in areas such as joint purchasing, maintenance, handling, flight operations and marketing, but Gordon says that, as the partnership progresses, one future option could be to share out long-haul services between the two carriers, with BWIA serving Europe, while Air Jamaica concentrates on New York.

BWIA's talks with Virgin Atlantic over an international partnership have now ended, and the search for a major international airline partner will be shelved for around another 18 months, says Gordon. "We are now looking to first consolidate ourselves in the Caribbean, working with the other local carriers such as ALM and Bahamasair," he says.

Gordon, who heads a Caribbean media group and is a former trade and tourism minister, was named to head the BWIA board in February, following the arrival of new chief executive Gilles Filiatreault in August 1996. Filiatreault was charged with turning around the fortunes of the loss-making Trinidad and Tobago-based carrier.

Gordon confirms that the airline has dropped the two Airbus A321s leased from International Lease Finance, and that the virtually new aircraft have been sub-leased to Turkish airline Air Alfa for four years. BWIA's Airbus crews will now fly Air Jamaica's recently delivered fleet of Airbus A320s, on a short-term, six-to-eight-month, transfer arrangement.

BWIA will regroup around its five McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and four Lockheed L-1011-500s, which are being refurbished. The airline, understood to have made a small loss in 1996, should be in profit this year, says Gordon.

Source: Flight International