Air Jamaica a source of pride, but too costly — PM

KINGSTON, Jamaica: Prime Minister Bruce Golding, in a statement issued last Friday, the eve of Air Jamaica’s transition from a national airline to becoming part of the regional carrier, Caribbean Airlines, extended “sincere and heartfelt appreciation” to those who served the airline over its 40 years of existence.

“You have an enviable safety and service record. As staff and management of Air Jamaica, you have served your country well and all Jamaica is proud of you,” said Golding.

The Prime Minister said for 40 years “it was an act of daring” for a small country like Jamaica to conceive of creating a national airline.

“We did, and over the years this ‘little piece of Jamaica that flies’ has become a source of pride to Jamaicans at home and abroad,” said Golding.

However, he pointed out that pride came at a huge cost — $126 billion over the 40 years and $31 billion over the last three years alone — as, among other things, the international airline industry has come under tremendous pressure from rising costs and intense competition.

“Many airlines have gone under and, in our case, keeping Air Jamaica flying has placed a huge burden on government’s scarce resources, only made worse by the global recession. We have to get our priorities right. We have to eliminate our fiscal deficit and reduce our borrowing, so that interest rates can come down and the economy can be given a chance to achieve real growth.

“We have to be able to devote more of our available resources to reducing crime, improving education, strengthening health care delivery and providing better infrastructure. We cannot do these things if we have to absorb such huge losses from state-owned enterprises like Air Jamaica,” said Golding.

Golding said the government has had to make the “regrettable, but inevitable” decision that it could no longer provide the financial support required to keep Air Jamaica flying. However, he noted that Jamaica has been fortunate to be able to transfer majority ownership to a regional carrier, which will operate the routes that are of the greatest importance to Jamaicans and tourists. (JIS)

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