Tourism minister defends airlift decision

KINGSTON, Jamaica: Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, has defended the ministry’s decision to take swift action to secure Jamaica’s airlift capacity, given the possibility of an airlift crisis.

During his presentation in the 2010/11 Budget Debate in the House of Representatives last week, Bartlett said that, at the end of 2008, the Caribbean faced an aviation crisis when American Airlines announced that it was dismantling the Puerto Rico hub and cutting services to the Caribbean.

“In the case of Jamaica, they stated their intention to withdraw a number of routes, including Dallas and Miami, and reducing their frequency out of New York. It must be clear that, combined with Air Jamaica’s announcement of its divestment plans and its rationalization programs, there was great uncertainty in tourism circles in Jamaica and in the marketplace,” said Bartlett.

“It was imperative that we took swift action to secure Jamaica’s airlift capacity, given the serious dilemma with which Jamaica was faced and the possibility of an airlift crisis,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said the decision to enter into arrangements with American Airlines to retain important gateways and to add the strategic gateway of Chicago, ensured the country’s strength in the vital Midwestern region of the United States.

“The alternative was to have no service for thousands of travellers,” said Bartlett.

In addition, Bartlett said that flights guaranteed by the agreements with American Airlines yielded 74,070 passengers and the Chicago route made a surplus of US$181,000.

“Of the total guarantees of US$4.5 million, the net amount which will have to be paid is US$2.9 million. American Airlines is continuing to provide its services out of these gateways without any further commitment in 2010.”

Bartlett noted other Caribbean destinations spent between US$30 million and US$40 million to secure far fewer air seats, which negatively impacted their arrivals.

“As it now stands, we have been able to adequately meet the demand, particularly over this winter season, with the additional one million seats with a 70 per cent load factor. As a result, Jamaica is number one in the region, both in terms of growth and connectivity.” (JIS)

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