By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
PARAMARIBO, Suriname -- Surinam Airways (SLM) has big plans for Guyana, being fully aware that that country has no national carrier, a large Diaspora in North America, and a $150 million plan to modernize its airport. SLM now plans to capitalize on these realities.
Its CEO and president Ewald Henshuijs, in an interview a few days ago with Business & Investment, had this to say, “Beware! Because there’s an airline that means business at the moment.”
And that business plans includes connecting Guyana with Toronto, French Guiana, Northern Brazil, China and Europe according to Henshuijs.
He said, “We are planning to start initial flights from Guyana to Toronto at the end of this year. We even look forward to connecting Guyana with China through Suriname, as we have an agreement with China Southern Airlines and Cathay Pacific.”
Surinam Airways plans to expand and modify its fleet to accommodate its 2012-2015 business plan. “In our business plan for 2012-2015 we are planning to update our fleet for long-haul journeys by operating twin engine aircraft instead of four engines so that we can have more flexibility when carrying our passengers. We also want to start joint operation with our neighbours out of Guyana to take them to Europe or wherever their market demands.”
This year SLM will acquire an additional Boeing 737-300 aircraft, increasing its fleet to three. This will enable SLM to fly to French Guiana, and increase frequencies to Guyana and Northern Brazil. In addition to cut down on cost, the airline most likely will give up its current Airbus 340 for two Boeing 767s, which will allow more flexibly on the transatlantic routes. As well, one of these aircraft will be used to ply the Guyana/Toronto route. Currently, there are no schedule non-stop flights between Guyana and Toronto, where there is a large Guyanese presence.
The Suriname flag carrier’s catering business has won recent international awards and the airline continues to improve.
Its CEO said, “We are dedicated to offering the best service. Let me tell you that in the past the company may have been more laid back as there was no competition but we have taken a stand to keep our customers satisfied. In our business plan we are seeking 90% satisfaction from our passengers and even trying to go higher.”
And from North America, where airlines are cutting back on in-flight services, SLM is only looking to improve and bring more tourists from Florida to Suriname.
“Our product in Miami is an exceptional one, as we strategically positioned ourselves to stand out from the competitors, who are cutting down on the amenities they offer clients such as food and drinks, and maintain high quality services. We see how passengers come back to Surinam Airways because they are so satisfied, in fact we signed an agreement with a tour operator in Florida and he is flying about 200 passengers a month in cooperation with the hotels Residence Inn, Krasnapolsky and others,” said Henshuijs
The discovery of large-scale oil, the gold rush and major airport expansion across the Guyanas has had a major impact on SLM’s ambitious expansion plans. The Guyanas are poised for an economic boom due to the discovery of oil along the maritime boundaries between Suriname and French Guiana, and major expansion of the gold and other mineral sectors. Suriname has also seen an increased in its tourism industry.
Within this backdrop, in addition to a recent $28 million upgrade, another $70 million will be spent to modernize Suriname’s Johan Pengel International Airport (JAP). According to Transportation Minister Pinas, the project, which was prepared during the previous administration, is insufficient to actually turn the airport into an international hub.