Jamaica’s place in the global Aviation Industry

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          In light of recent events, the timeliness of an article of this nature is long overdue. Jamaica is, a major if not, one of the most household names where tourism is concerned. That high marketability for tourism is directly proportional to a high marketability for aviation to and from her shores. According to the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), visitor arrivals by air and sea hit a record 3.3 million in 2012, up 7.4 per cent. January to June 2013 recorded dips in both arrivals by air, at 1.2 per cent, and sea, 8.5 per cent, compared with preceding years. Total arrivals fell by 78,000, or by 4.2 per cent, from 1.85 million 1.77 million people visiting Jamaica. Arrivals in 2011 amounted to 3.07 million. Tourist visits hit the three million mark in 2006. Jamaica’s cruise sector since 2011 became the fastest growth market in the Caribbean due to the island’s newest port, Falmouth Cruise Pier. As a result, the bulk of 2012’s increase came from cruise passenger growth, up 17 per cent, seeing total visitors by sea amounting up to 1.34 million. Geographically, a rise in Canadian and US visitors balanced the decline in United Kingdom/Europe, down 16.3 per cent and 2.9 per cent, respectively. Canada’s growth, however, waned a bit from its previous double-digit growth.

With that being said, Jamaica stands to gain significantly from an ever expanding and healthy aviation sector, not only providing employment but also attracting much needed foreign exchange. Unfortunately, this is not the current situation. Instead of growth, one might say that Jamaica has begun to run backwards where aviation is concerned. Ownership of the airline has changed hands many times but it was not until May 26, 2011, that the national flight service regained some stability after a takeover from Trinidadian based, Caribbean Airlines. Caribbean Airlines, recognizing the power of the brand Jamaica, were gracious enough to allow the airline to continue operations under the name Air Jamaica. Bankruptcy and an inability to function normally were among the primary reasons the national airline needed a bailout. Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Finance, Don Wehby explained that the partner the Government was seeking must be a major company with airline experience. He was quoted as saying: “In other words, they should run a reputable airline and they should also have a lot of capital to run it (Air Jamaica) efficiently.” The Government made a short-list of four major airline firms from which one was chosen to take a stake in Air Jamaica.

In the wake of missing Malaysian flight MH370 and the controversy surrounding the currently unsolved case, the Government of Jamaica pledged $2.3 Billion JMD to improvements in Aviation Safety & Security. Jamaica has two major airports, the Norman Manley International in Kingston and the Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. There are however, another 4 domestic airstrips that help to transport both cargo and passengers in and around the island. These are the Tinson Pen Aerodrome in Kingston, the Negril Aerodrome in Negril, the Boscobel Aerodrome in Ocho Rios and the Ken Jones Aerodrome in Port Antonio. The Norman Manley International Airport, formerly the Palisadoes Airport, is the airport that serves Kingston and its vicinities primarily. It was named in honour of Norman Washington Manley, one of our seven national heroes. Air Jamaica, operating under Caribbean Airlines has a fleet size of 5 aircrafts, reaching 6 destinations.

Several phenomenal pilots have emerged from Jamaica, especially in the last few decades, each of which have achieved numerous awards from national and international aviation agencies. Since the national airline struggles to subsidize itself and meet its own expenses, finding salary would obviously be a problem. Hence several of these award-winning, experienced pilots are employed overseas to Indian and Middle-Eastern airline companies where they are in high demand. Air traffic controllers signed a wage-freeze agreement with the Government of Jamaica in March, 2013. During the frequent closed-door meetings discussions also included the working conditions and the issue of fatigue affecting the performance of controllers. Clarity still needs to be provided on several items submitted in a wage claim for the 2012-2014 contract period. Arguably, since the introduction of the first plane, transportation between shores has become less tedious and time-consuming; but taking into consideration the risks involved, many still resort to transportation by sea. The Aviation Industry has become one of the most successful and rapidly growing of those before it’s time, yet Jamaica has failed to even scrape the surface of its potential to significantly impact and contribute to the aviation industry. Like all else, not enough funding or attention is given to its cause more than is essentially necessary, which is why much more is needed to see aviation develop into all that it can, in Jamaica, from infancy to adolescence and beyond.

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