Monday, April 07, 2014

Cayman Airways seeks new planes for Brac

Cayman Airways is looking to lease new, larger planes to service the commuter route between Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman.

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said several plane types were being reviewed with the hope that the new aircraft could be in service by the end of the year.

A business case is currently being produced for the planes, which would likely be larger turbo-prop aircraft. The Compass understands that one of the plane types under review is a Saab 34, which typically seats between 30 and 36 passengers.

The current Twin Otter aircraft can hold a maximum of 19 passengers.

Paul Tibbetts, chief financial officer of the airline, said work was ongoing to identify the “most appropriate aircraft” for the route and suggested the business case would be completed this month.

He denied that a test drive was scheduled for next week, but said, “As part of the necessary due diligence for the business case, aircraft models suitable to service the route effectively are being evaluated thoroughly.”

Mr. Kirkconnell said he hoped the planes could be in service by September or October when the existing Twin Otter planes are scheduled for maintenance. The plan will likely entail the smaller planes, which are owned outright by the airline, being used between the Sister Islands.

The new planes would be leased by the airline, rather than purchased.

He said, “There is a business case being done for larger turbo prop planes for Cayman Brac and, eventually, for Little Cayman. It stands to reason that we will be looking at some different options.”

It is possible that they could be used further afield than the Sister Islands. Mr. Kirkconnell acknowledged that there could be scheduling changes to maximize the potential of the aircraft.

Cayman Airways was allocated just over $23 million in the last government budget. Just under $3 million of that was described as a purchase agreement for domestic air services.

It is not clear how new planes would impact the budget. There would be lease costs involved but that could be offset by fuel savings associated with schedule changes.

Officials believe Cayman Airways, despite its substantial losses, is a vital cog in Cayman’s tourism economy. The airline was credited with helping visitor arrivals reach a decade-long high in 2013.