Sun | Nov 19, 2017

Final flight? - Charter operators lost $45 million; may not return here

Published:Wednesday | September 13, 2017 | 12:00 AMJanet Silvera

At least two of the largest European charter operators plying Jamaica, Spain's Evelop and Portugal's Orbest, are questioning the viability of flying their planes here next season.

Both carriers are seasonal, operating into the Sangster International Airport from June to September.

Their uncertainty is spurred by the intermittent closure of the island's airspace as a result of damage to the radar/communication system, and lack of communication, costing them millions of dollars.

It is estimated that both carriers spent J$22.5 million each to facilitate the more than 660 passengers and crew when they were forced to divert their aircraft to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, last Friday and again on Sunday.

Accommodation, transportation, landing fees, airport and civil aviation taxes, handling fees, departure taxes, fuel cost and loss of use of the aircraft contributed significantly to their losses. The radar system, which is used by the island's air traffic controllers, was hit by lightning last Friday evening, resulting in the closure.

International tour operators are responsible for their passengers until they arrive in their final destinations. An unscheduled stop also affects their crew, who are not permitted to work outside a certain numbers of hours. They must have what is called crew rest, which caused both airlines to spend two days in Punta Cana.

 

Seven-year hiatus

 

"As a result of what is happening, both airlines are not sure if they will come back to Jamaica," the handling company, Jamaica Dispatch Services, expressed. Evelop and Orbest had not been to Jamaica in over seven years. They returned to the Jamaican skies in June.

Meantime, the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) says it is doing everything in its power to minimise the impact by operating within a 16-hour peak period. As of Monday night, the organisation moved the airspace closure time from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., reopening at 7 a.m., daily.

"Progress is being made incrementally," JCAA's Corporate Communications Manager Ava-Marie Ingram said when asked what type of the timeline the country was working with, in relation to return to normalcy.

She said that very few flights come into the Jamaican airspace, or leaves, after 11 p.m.

Tourism stakeholders who spoke with The Gleaner are convinced that industrial action by the air traffic controllers has heightened the situation. However, director general of the JCAA, Nari Williams Singh, has refuted that claim.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com