By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
GEORGETOWN, Guyana — It has been more than five years since Caribbean Airlines expressed an interest in launching direct flights from Georgetown, Guyana, to New York, Miami and Toronto and this goal was reiterated on Wednesday in Georgetown during a visit by chief executive officer (CEO) of Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL), Garvin Medera.
He said that “we at CAL are committed to serve Guyana in the future, improving the way as we go along”.
“We have a proud relationship with Guyana that spans several decades and for us, this year it is really about building on that legacy, and by building I mean we want to get to a point where we are actually part of the communities we serve,” Madera noted.
The airline is looking to partner with local stakeholders in the travel and tourism business in Guyana and that was the objective of the visit to Guyana. It was also to assure the Guyanese public of CAL’s intention to improve service to Guyana after decades of complaints about the airline’s poor service.
“There are a lot of gaps in regional travel and we at Caribbean Airlines have taken up the mandate to fill these gaps. But more than air transport we are interested in becoming the partner with each of our markets that we work in and that means understanding more than the transportation needs; it means understanding the concerns that we have in Guyana, the concerns that we have in Jamaica, Trinidad,” Madera said.
CAL can’t “originate flights from Guyana” to the United States
The airline has faced challenges to launching direct flights to New York from a group of US carriers, but the airline is also the flag carrier of Guyana, which does not have a national airline. Guyana is allowed to name more than one airline on these routes since it has an “open air agreement” with the United States.
In 2013, Airlines for America (A4A), an advocacy group that claims to represent major US scheduled passenger and cargo airlines, urged the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to oppose the July 16, 2013, application of Fly Jamaica Airways and the July 18, 2013, application of CAL for “an exemption from 49 USC/40301 (7th Freedom) to operate scheduled service between New York-John F. Kennedy International Airport and Georgetown, Guyana.”
The fact that Guyana does not have Category 1 status also prevents Guyana-based carriers from launching direct US flights. But Guyana is close to achieving Category 1 status, which will mean that Guyana-based carriers and others in the region can fly non-stop from Georgetown to any point in the United States, the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) said recently.
“Based on the regulations, we have to route all flights through Port of Spain before we come to Guyana, which means there is an in-transit experience and that experience is something that we are hoping to improve; it could be solved ultimately if we get the opportunity to start and end flights in Guyana, which is what we want to do,” Madera added.
To avoid the in-transit issue that Guyanese resent, the airline is looking to establish a base in Georgetown “so that there is no need for passengers to in-transit anywhere and that is why we are happy the PSC is on board with that idea and that we are working the right stakeholders to ensure that that could become a reality,” Madera said.
Under the Madera management, Caribbean Airlines has improved in-flight services, customer relations and has cut financial losses. Madera also plans to improve the meal services between Guyana and North America.
Madera and his staff are listening to the complaints of Guyanese who are the bulk of their passengers and CAL executive Fazal Karim admitted some years ago that the “Guyana-NY route is one of our cash cows”. The Guyana government resented such expression.
Madera also said that the airline is looking to renew its old fleet and just recently the airline has forged agreements with Surinam Airways (SLM) and other Caribbean companies to facilitate easier travel.