Minister of Transport and Works, Hon. Michael Henry, said he has had discussions with the Ministers of Transport for Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago and further talks will be held next month.
“We are also scheduled for a meeting in October where we can begin, as Ministers of Transport, to discuss the development of an integrated air travel for the Caribbean and to make it more economically viable, more speedily attainable and that we will develop better interconnectivity,” he stated.
Minister Henry was speaking at a seminar on ‘Air travel in the Caribbean: Challenges and Opportunities,’ held on September 29, on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Turning to options available to ensure that the Caribbean benefits globally from air travel, he mentioned the creation of regional hubs, and adopting a structured open skies policy.
“We have to plan well ahead, we have to look at hubs, we have to analyse the costs. We have to recognise all the issues that relate to air transport,” he stated.
“We have to fully appreciate that there will be many countries in the region that could not benefit from the larger development of the air-nautical industry and therefore, we must begin to regionalise hubs and have those hubs created that we can fly more quickly between each country,” he added.
Mr. Henry stated that Jamaica is well on its way in this regard as it has signed open skies agreements with as 46 countries across the globe including Brazil, Turkey, Canada and Singapore. He said the aim is to position Jamaica as an international hub.
“We are very alert in Jamaica to the needs of air travel and the expansion of air travel and the connectivity which relates,” he stated.
Former Barbadian Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Noel Lynch, in the meantime, joined the call for a single airline to serve the region.
He argued that a single Caribbean airline, owned and operated by regional interests, is the best option for CARICOM.
“Air transport has an integral role to play in the development of the integration movement. One Caribbean airline that leverages the resources and expertise in most of our countries, coupled with a combination of successful, homegrown policies, is in my opinion, still the best model for air transport success in this region,” he stated.
“Ironically and noteworthy is the fact that most of the endeavours and practices for which we as a region have received global acclaim and for which we are renowned for global excellence are the efforts that we have undertaken collectively. West Indies cricket and the UWI are just two that I can mention. I believe that one, true Caribbean airline awaits our early action,” he argued further.
Other speakers at the seminar, hosted by the UWI’s Centre for Tourism and Policy Research, included: Director General, Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority, Lt. Col. Oscar Derby and Chief Executive Officer, REDjet Airlines, Ian Burns.
The publication, ‘Caribbean Tourism: Perceptions, Economic Development and Air Travel’ was also launched at the seminar. The book is the first issue in the series of working policy papers on issues related to tourism and development in the Caribbean.