By Chris Roberts
PARAMARIBO, Suriname -- For a small nation, situated along the northeast coast of South America, the country of Suriname has a big plus – its own national airline. Surinam Airways (different spelling is old English) is celebrating 50 years of service.
The government-owned flag carrier has survived the turbulence of a highly competitive industry. Other state run airlines from Latin American countries like Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, and Dominican Republic have folded.
“You have to always see the horizon in what you’re doing,” says director/CEO Ewald Henshuijs, who started his career as an administrative employee at the age of 22. He remembers the era of Pan Am and Eastern. “We haven’t scrimped on service. Other airlines are taking out service, we’re keeping it in.”
When asked if long range planning in the airline industry is Monday, Henshuijs says, “We’re a day to day business. If there is chaos, you have to be a leader.”
“Our challenge is handling delays,” says Henk Fitz-Jim, Miami-based general manager for North America. “We can’t just go to another gate and bring in replacement aircraft to fix the situation.” Still, his veteran check-in staff keeps those in line feeling that things are in order.
The airline was established in the 1950s, aimed at operating feeder flights from a domestic network. The Surinamese government http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suriname_%28Kingdom_of_the_Netherlands%29 took over the company in the 1960s. When Suriname achieved independence in 1975, the carrier was appointed as the national airline. It also started service to Amsterdam using a Douglas DC-8 leased from KLM.
Surinam Airways serves a modest nine destinations including Miami, Aruba, Curacao and long haul service to Amsterdam, competing with KLM. The airline is looking to expand.
If you go
Surinam Airways offers 5 flights a week from Miami, connecting through Aruba, Curacao or Trinidad to Paramaribo. “Right now the connection is required,” says CEO Henshuijs. “Our airport needs to be certified by the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration. We’re working on that now.”
Nonstop flights to Miami will open the door to North American financial partnerships. Right now, passengers can enjoy complimentary refreshments and hot meals in economy and business class, plus no fees to check a bag.
“We’re a small airline, but people are proud and feel like they own it,” adds Henshuijs. Flights to the popular interior of the country are offered through a code sharing agreement with Caricom Airways.
For booking information visit www.flyslm.com
Chris Roberts is a freelance writer based in Hollywood, Florida