On November 20, REDjet launched its inaugural flight from Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, to Kingston Jamaica. The next day it flew from Trinidad to Barbados and the following day it flew nonstop direct from Guyana to Antigua, the first time that route has ever been flown.
In effect, the airline opened up three new routes rather quickly and is looking to expand on those. It has already lined up flights to St Lucia and is now contemplating operations in Latin America.
Speaking to Caribbean Business Report from the airline’s headquarters in Barbados, REDjet’s chairman Ian Burns said: “The real key thing is that we have now linked the northern Caribbean to the eastern and southern part of the region with a nonstop all-jet service. We made the promise that we would reduce the cost of flights in the region by 60 per cent and we have done so. If you look at the prices in the region there has been a fantastic reduction. One can fly from Jamaica to Barbados round-trip for just US$200.
“From Barbados to Guyana the fare is between US$100 and US$120 including taxes. A round-trip from Trinidad to Barbados will set you back about US$90. The great thing about linking the Caribbean is that you don’t need visas, you just grab your passport and away you go. We are now linking the Caribbean in a very affordable way.”
A helping hand to Caribbean students
Burns points to the travel bill of students of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and notes that is yet another hardship they have to bear on top of high fees and the rising cost of living. He declared that as far as air travel is concerned, REDjet is now able to cut airfares by over 50 per cent for students.
lready REDjet is allowing students in the region to travel with two free bags. He insists that even with baggage, students would still see a 50 to 60 per cent reduction in airfares. He believes those savings can go back into education and during recessionary times students need every penny that they can get.
Targeting the Spanish speaking region
REDjet has considered going into Suriname, but is aware that it already has a national airline. Countries that do have a national carrier will no doubt prove difficult for REDjet to go up against.
The airline’s ambitions do not reside just in the English-speaking Caribbean. It sees plenty of opportunities in the Spanish-speaking side of the region and has set its sights there. “If you are going from English-speaking countries into Spanish-speaking countries, then you have to make a sizable investment in the sense of changing systems, language and specifications on all aircraft designated for those destinations. We are now in the process of doing all that. We have a critical plan in place for the Spanish-speaking countries of the region. The populations are obviously bigger than the English-speaking Caribbean countries and we think we can make our presence felt there,” explained Burns.
More airlift needed for the Caribbean
Many have declared that the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and Caricom as a whole has been most disappointing and indeed may well become a failure. One of its shortcomings has been its inability to effectively link the region by air travel which stymies the search for employment opportunities and leisure travel. The linchpin of both the social and economic benefits of the CSME was to be good air links, but after fifty years this has not yet materialised.
On this issue, Burns said: “Most of the countries of Caricom have made it clear that they need more airlift as a key driver of stimulating social and economic growth. What people have not agreed upon is, how are they going to do it? What is plain to see is that the incumbent airlines do not have the capacity to increase the amount of airlift in the region and have been unable to do so for the last 40 years. In fact, it has retracted, so one clearly sees that new airlines in the Caribbean are needed.
We need people with a new approach and a new product. The Caribbean region has fallen way behind in competitiveness over the last 20 years, and the cost of air travel has been a major factor here. That’s why many people, both in and out of the region, find it difficult to do business there. Here I’d like to think that REDjet is a catalyst for serious change. When one looks at communication, Digicel came in ten years ago and nothing has come in afterwards. We want to re-energise the airline business in the Caribbean.