MARY KIRBY / WASHINGTON DC
Caribbean Sun Airlines set to go head-to-head with American Eagle while sister carrier Caribbean Star battles Liat
Start-up Caribbean Sun Airlines will compete head-on with American Eagle when it inaugurates services from San Juan, Puerto Rico, in December. The Florida-based sister company to Caribbean Star in Antigua plans to introduce turboprop flights to Antigua, St Kitts, the Leeward Islands, Tortolla, St Maarten and St Thomas.
US approvals are expected within weeks. Caribbean Sun hopes to launch charters this month, followed by scheduled services a month later. The carrier will operate four Bombardier Dash 8s by the end of next year, but has tentative US permission to upgrade to 60-seat regional jets.
The creation of Caribbean Sun enables millionaire owner Allen Stanford to bypass the US Federal Aviation Administration Internat-ional Aviation Safety Assessment programme's Category 2 restrictions imposed on the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, which prohibit expansion of Caribbean Star flights from Antigua to the USA.
Caribbean Star already flies Dash 8s to a number of destinations proposed by Caribbean Sun, including St Kitts, Tortolla and St Maarten. Caribbean Sun will connect with Caribbean Star and provide one-stops throughout the region, much like American Eagle.
The carriers' rapid expansion plans and Stanford's deep pockets have put small Caribbean carriers on the defensive, as they are already suffering from the effects of 11 September.
Antigua incumbent Liat has been engaged in a turf war since Caribbean Star's start-up two years ago. Tiny Nevis Express is facing restructuring after Liat launched services linking Antigua, Nevis and San Juan in preparation for Caribbean Sun's start-up. Nevis Express president Allen Haddadi says: "With the exception of American Eagle and Caribbean Star, we are all niche markets. Now, you have this war between Caribbean Star and Liat."
Meanwhile, a new unaffiliated company called Bermuda Star plans to create an airline offering services to Cologne, Germany, and Manchester, UK, as well as Chicago, New York Newark and Orlando in the US, with Boeing 757-200s and 767-200ERs.
The Austrian honorary consul in Bermuda, Leopold Kuchler, is forming Bermuda Star. The carrier would be the first Bermudan company to establish air services from the island in years and could pose a challenge to British Airways' weekly London Gatwick-Bermuda flights.
Source: Flight International