Caribbean Airlines gets ready for new fleet
By Vernon Khelawan
Thursday, October 7 2010
“Your attention please! Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking!”
Making that announcement would be Captain Ian Brunton, who in a former dispensation, would have repeated those words thousands of times from his flight deck. But now, he is in control of CAL’s entire operations as the airline’s chief executive officer from a different kind of flight deck at Piarco International.
In this particular announcement, Captain Brunton would reveal the State-owned, national carrier of Trinidad and Tobago has unveiled its fleet renewal plans – nine brand new ATR 72-600s turboprop aircraft and 15 Boeing 737-800 New Generation jets.
Business Day caught up with Brunton last Friday in London where he was having some serious discussions with officials of the European aircraft manufacturer ATR, following its announcement of the nine-plane deal. The company is based in Toulouse, France.
Of the nine new aircraft, he said, six will be deployed in Trinidad to enhance the airbridge service between Tobago and Trinidad, as well as operate scheduled flights to Caracas, Venezuela and Barbados.
“The remaining three planes would be sent to Jamaica to service the Kingston-Montego Bay route as well as other short range routes in that area,” he said.
Since however, the first of the new 68-seater ATRs would not arrive in Trinidad before October 2011 – one year away, plans are well underway to secure two ATR72-500s, slightly different from the new ones, on a temporary lease before the end of this year, “to provide some relief to the beleaguered Dash-8-300 fleet.”
The ninth aircraft is expected to be delivered in July 2012.
In respect of the jet fleet, Brunton said Caribbean Airlines would be operating 16 airplanes – nine based at Piarco and six in Kingston, Jamaica. Because of the worldwide demand for new 737- 800s, it is not possible for the airline to secure new aircraft, CAL has therefore been forced to resort to leasing similar aircraft (737s), the first of which is due in Port-of-Spain before the end of this month.
The other seven will be delivered at specific periods, with the final plane being delivered in June 2011. Six of these seven will be sent to Jamaica to replace the six Airbus aircraft now being operated by Air Jamaica and as a spokesman put it, “as one Boeing 737 is received and pressed into service an Airbus would be taken out of service.”
These arrangements have already been put in place.
At present, the Port of Spain schedule is handled by eight aircraft providing services to Toronto in Canada, New York, Miami and Fort Lauderdale in the United States, as well as services to Caricom member states Guyana and Jamaica. This means that an additional plane would be based in Port of Spain.
It is understood that although the first leased 737, expected in a few weeks, has been earmarked for Air Jamaica service, word out of Piarco is that it would initially remain in Port of Spain and one of CAL’s Piarco-based planes would be sent to Kingston to replace an Airbus.
The all-Boeing fleet however, would pose a few problems. The Air Jamaica services for many years were operated by Airbus aircraft. Switching to Boeing would mean training cockpit and cabin crews. Although that process was begun some time ago, a dispute arose between management and the Jamaican pilots which scuttled the training for the past two months. However, information out of Piarco is that those problems have been resolved and training should have resumed this week. This would be an ongoing programme since there would be need for close to 100 pilots once the fleet in Kingston and Montego Bay becomes fully Boeing.
When ATR revealed the US$200 million deal last week, its media release quoted Brunton as saying the acquisition of the ATR-600s would allow CAL to continue to develop and improve the airline’s offerings to its customers.
“The low operating costs and fuel consumption costs of these aircraft,” the CEO pointed out, “are particularly appealing and provide us with tremendous flexibility in adding frequencies and developing new markets in the region.”
This view was endorsed by Colville Carrington, CAL’s director, Maintenance and Engineering when he told Business Day it was more expensive to maintain a Dash-8 aircraft that it was for a 737. He said the short cycles on the Airbridge were not the best thing for the Dash, which is a reliable aircraft.
When CAL begins to operate its new ATRs, it will be one of some 30 airlines in Latin America and the Caribbean which are part of the ATR family and which between them operate close to 150 ATR aircraft.
But at the same time that CAL is readying itself to begin using the new ATRs, longtime user American Eagle is discontinuing its ATR service to Port of Spain out its San Juan, Puerto Rico hub. For the past couple years the Eagle has served Trinidad and Tobago with non-stop flights between the two destinations. This comes to an end next year.