BY KELLARAY MILES, Jamaica Observer
The paucity of indigenously owned and operated airlines in the country, was among the reasons used to support the launch of Oriole Limited, a Jamaican airline venture that the operators have said will transform and revive the domestic and Caribbean airspace.
The full operation of services to be provided by what the operators say will be a domestic low-cost carrier (LCC) is expected to commence next year utilising a sustainable business model that will be affordable, eco-friendly and a regionally connected aviation powerhouse.
Speaking at a launch event yesterday at the Liguanea Club in New Kingston ahead of its intended 388 days full commercial launch, Aloun Ndombet-Assamba, chairman of Oriole—a Jamaican and European consortium, said that the set up will be an integrated aviation business based on a bold strategic vision.
“I knew from the time when I was minister of tourism that Jamaica has been a graveyard for airlines. We probably remember Trans-Jamaican Airlines, Jamaica Air Shuttle, Air Jamaica Express, Air Jamaica and most recently Fly Jamaica. They have all come and gone. I hope like me you will be persuaded that now is the time for a bold new vision for the aviation sector in Jamaica. We have a rare opportunity to consider our own transformational investment opportunity for Jamaica.
She stressed that for this airline there will be clarity of vision, detailing of the plan, robustness of the financial parametric, and excellence of the implementation plan.
Oriole in emphasising its vision has said that the business is one aimed at securing western Caribbean dominance in a bid to project Brand Jamaica on a global stage, allow for regional connectivity, provide locals with high-quality jobs, drive the economy and generate hard currency as well as to allow for business and tourist access to the whole island.
Keith Kerr, project director and chief executive officer designate, a seasoned aviation practitioner having years of acquaintance and experience with the industry [started airlines in Saudi Arabia, Phillipines-Airfill Express and Peach — a Japanese carrier] also added that the business plan was conceptualised out of a need to satisfy and address matters arising from operating aviation businesses with a hope of providing real change.
“This initiative has been in gestation for a significant amount of time, it’s been researched, stress tested, and always come through in flying colours. I have been researching for some time and had knowledge of this particular market. The Jamaican market is booming and is ripe with the right proposition to have great success. Starting an airline is perceived to be difficult, as starting an airline in this country is started by people who are passionate flyers rather than people who are passionate business people. Jamaica needs infrastructure and there is an opportunity to derive significant profits from that if it’s done properly. The problem with prior operators is that they have always started under capitalised,” he shared.
The aim of the business he reasoned is to match the gauge of the aircraft with the market and its requirements.
“We want to deliver all the elements of an aviation service and we want to put Jamaica back to where it was — an aviation powerhouse! Our vision is that it is outrageous that a country of 2.9 million people who is dependent on tourism, agriculture, and mining hasn’t got its own strategic airlift,” Kerr continued, while making the point that the current providers could choose to withdraw their services at any time which would be to the detriment of the economy.
With a company largely funded through equity projected along a five-year path, Kerr indicated that the company will be building its way from the bottom up and in the process prove its concept, refine its proposition and ultimately contend with the biggest players in the industry, also making mention of launching an initial public offering (IPO) after the start-up phase.
“We are nearly fully funded, we’re in the 80s [per cent] in terms of funding, but we still need to finalise on the issue of the Jamaican content in ownership. There is still an opportunity for folks here to invest; we will be making an IPO at some stage in the early stages. If we are really going to be a people airline, then they ought to have access. You have to ensure that control rests with the nationals,” he said.
He disclosed that in the first phase of the project which will become fully operational in about March next year using mostly leased aircraft, they are expected to undertake flights across Jamaica and the region with hourly shuttle service between Kingston and Montego Bay and other intra-island trips to Negril, Ochio Rios, Port Antonio, and Treasure Beach.
For inter-regional flights the routes and networks will be mapped through countries including Barbados, Curacao, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago among others.
Diane Edwards, president of Jamaica promotions corporation (Jampro) in speaking at the launch said that though airline businesses tend to be a challenging feat, her agency is very excited about the initiative.
“We often hear of business people who want to go down to Montego Bay to host some meetings for the day or to come up to Kingston for same, and it’s a chore for them to do it on the road. We hear of people who need to be at a meeting in Port Antonio or need to have another meeting in Negril later that afternoon hence there is real opportunity to build business traffic across the island.
“We know that right now, Jamaica is the place to be, the number of people seen in business hotels alone is growing astronomically. With the positive macroeconomic indicators that we are seeing, I really feel that the time is ripe for us to improve our connectivity inter-and intra-island,” she stated.
She noted that with more investment interest now coming out of the Caribbean and the wider region, Oriole, when it takes off can make a tremendous difference.
“The aviation industry is ripe for movement, logistics is growing as couriers need to be sent from here to there, more document needs to be transported, cargoes etc, we need options,” she said.
Image credit: Garfield Robinson