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Island Aviation

Island Aviation (1057)

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - So far, Cuba has dominated the headlines in 2016: first, the Department of Transportation opened bidding for new commercial routes into Cuba.

Then President Obama announced that he would become the first sitting president in 88 years to visit Cuba. Coinciding with this week’s state visit are also both a Major League Baseball game and a Rolling Stones concert. Altogether, it’s quite the cultural watershed moment.

So what do these rapid developments mean for the travel industry? In this two-part series, we use Sabre data to explore how the ecosystem of travel to Cuba could develop over the next year.


Airlines apply for routes

Earlier this year, the Department of Transportation opened applications for U.S. carriers to fly into Cuba. Up to 110 scheduled daily flights are available for officially sanctioned commercial flights to Cuba’s ten airports, including 20 daily flights into Havana’s José Martí International Airport. Airlines eagerly filed applications to fly non-charter flights to Cuba. Alaska, American, Frontier, Spirit, Sun Country, United, JetBlue, Southwest, and Delta are the biggest brands angling for a fixed number of routes.

American Airlines flew 1,200 charters last year to Cuba, while JetBlue also flies charters to Cuba. The government has not said whether those already operating in Cuba will have an advantage in the bidding process. To be considered, airlines must submit details of the proposed routes, such as aircraft type and a prioritized list of origin cities.

In a statement toBloomberg BusinessWeek, JetBlue’s SVP of government affairs Rob Land, highlights how competitive this process already is:

I think it’s safe to say that the Havana market application pool will be oversubscribed.

Land’s statement is indeed correct: U.S. carriers applied for about 50 daily flights to Havana from various hubs, far more than the 20 allotted slots. The breakdown of daily scheduled flights reveals significant bids from American, JetBlue and Southwest.


Cuban-American populations

Airlines are clearly eager to serve the 77% increase in Americans arriving to Cuba in 2015, a year that saw a total of 161,000 American arrivals according to theCaribbean Tourism Organization.

BusinessWeekalso highlighted some of the likely metrics for regulators, saying that “the size of a city’s Cuban-American population, along with which routes are most conducive to business travel and other commercial engagement with the island” will be prioritized. The airlines serving the cities below are likely to have a leg up in the selection process.

This critical information supports some of the airlines’ applications for a sizable share of the daily flights to Havana. For example, American argues that its strong hub in Miami is ideally suited to serve that area’s significant Cuban-American population.

Travel to Cuba opens up – but from which cities?

Amidst the backdrop of his historic trip, President Obama furthereased travel restrictionsto Cuba. Americans can now travel to the island if the trip is declared a cultural visit. This includes activities such as visiting art museums, learning about the Cuban people, taking in art or even watching a baseball game.

Given this, more and more Americans will travel to Cuba. The question is: from which cities?

Sabre data from 2015 sheds some light on which cities airlines may be awarded routes. While its never apples-to-apples (Sabre’s internal data set on American travel to Cuba is significantly large), our predictions considered gateway cities for travel to similar Caribbean countries.

The data, which is pulled from an anonymized and blended (corporate/leisure) set sorted by date of booking, shows the most popular gateway cities for travel to the Caribbean. A gateway city is the last city prior to flying to a country. So rather than showing the city a traveler started from, it shows the last city a traveler transited through before arriving in the country. Since passengers from other cities generally travel through hubs, this analysis shows the hubs that the DOT would be most likely to consider for sanctioned travel to Cuba.

The countries include Barbados, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago. Based on the assumption of attracting a mix of leisure, family and corporate travel, each of these countries have a similar profile and demographic appeal as that of Cuba.


There are twenty daily flights in play – could the DOT match the current travel patterns to Cuba or will the government adjust these flights to match local Cuban-American populations with direct access to their families back home? There’s no easy answer but the data offers an insightful look at how many elements should be considered.

The DOT could also look at which airlines market the most flights into the Caribbean, which demonstrates deeper knowledge of the operational complexities of Cuba. An analysis of airline marketing codes shows that American, Delta, JetBlue and United are the most active commercial airlines in the selected countries.

Gateway Airline Code

The DOT is expected to release the chosen routes by the summer – just in time for the onslaught of American travelers expected to touch down on the island during peak summer travel season!Will you travel to Cuba in the next year?

ST JOHN’S, Antigua Regional airline LIAT Friday advised travellers that effective April 1, 2016, the United States Department of Homeland Security requires that all travellers entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) must have an e-Passport.

This includes travel to the following US territories served by LIAT:

  • Puerto Rico
  • St. Croix
  • St. Thomas

Travellers from the VWP countries who are still in possession of a valid Machine Readable Passport (MRP) will not be permitted to travel to the US after April 1, 2016.

Citizens of the new countries of Curacao, Bonaire, St Eustatius, Saba and St Maarten (the former Netherlands Antilles) are not eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme if they are applying for admission with passports from these countries.

Passports issued by Visa Waiver Programme countries on or after October 26, 2006 must be e-Passports, which include an integrated computer chip capable of storing biographic information from the data page as well as biometric information, such as the required digital photograph of the holder. You can identify an e-Passport by the symbol on the front cover of the passport booklet.

Full details of the updated requirements can be found at: https://www.dhs.gov/visa-waiver-program-requirements

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad – Caribbean Airlines (CAL) has denied a local television report that one of its aircraft had been detained in Venezuela this week and released only after the crew had handed over fruit juices.

In a statement on its website, CAL said that the report by CNC 3 was “devoid of fact” and called on the television station, “to immediately retract the incorrect story carried in its newscast on Tuesday” night.

“This type of tabloid journalism has far reaching consequences and Caribbean Airlines is asking CNC 3 to be more responsible in how it presents news stories,” the airline said.

The television had reported that the aircraft had been surrounded by Venezuelan soldiers who were demanding fruit juices as the Spanish-speaking country continue to feel the impact of an economic downturn occasioned by low oil prices.

In the statement, CAL said that it had prior to the broadcast informed a reporter at the television station that there was no truth to the allegation.

SIMPSON BAY, St. Maarten (Wednesday, April 6, 2016)—Passengers on Air France flight 498 arriving at Princess Juliana International Airport, SXM on Thursday, March 31, 2016 were pleasantly surprised while disembarking, as they received a “Caribbean welcome” with musical performances by the Dow steel pan band.

Some passengers danced their way to the Immigration control, while others, with cellular phones and cameras recorded the experience and captured memories.dow pan at sxm apr 2016a

“It was a very nice event and passengers were as surprised as they were delighted. To organize such event is a way for us to show our customers we care.

We want to share experiences, create emotions and memories with them,” said Martijn ten Broecke, Air France/KLM's station manager, who personally welcomed the passengers. 

Air France prepared this event in collaboration with the airport teams.

“Customer satisfaction is our goal that is why we are always willing to assist in whatever way possible to make the experience at our airport a moving one,” added Larry Donker, SXM Airport deputy managing director.

In Photo: St. Maarten steel pan players (Mighty Dow, L), performing for the arriving passengers at SXM Airport. (SXM photo)

ST JOHN’S, Antigua – A Jamaican woman is currently in police custody, assisting them in their investigations, following a drug bust at the airport over the weekend.

Ingrid Gouldbourne, 28, of Windward Road, Kingston, Jamaica was arrested and taken into custody, after police sniffer dogs detected almost 50 pounds of Cannabis inside her suitcase. The dog detected the Class “B” Drugs, during a regular routine search carried out by the Police K-9 Unit at the V. C. Bird International Airport on Monday.

Ms. Gouldbourne and the suitcase bearing her name was pulled offline by the police and searched. A search on the suitcase turned up 12 wrapped packages of Cannabis, weighing 49 ¾lbs, concealed among several pieces of clothing. The woman arrived on the island aboard the Caribbean Airlines Flight #459 from Jamaica on Monday. The drugs were seized, and she was taken into custody, where she will be charged for a number of drugs related offences. The drugs carry an estimated street value of $199,000. She will make her first appearance before the court on Wednesday.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - Minister Ingrid Arrindell responsible for Tourism confirmed on Wednesday that JetBlue is not ending its service to St. Maarten but in-fact only ending its San Juan service to the island.

Last week the Minister stated that the airline would be ending their service to the island in June and that efforts are ongoing to bring about a change in their plans to end service.

Wednesday the Minister confirmed that this was not the case and that they are now exploring the possibilities for new services.

More now via PodCast.

NEW YORK – Bail has been set for former beauty queen and JetBlue flight attendant, Marsha Gay Reynolds, at $500,000.

The New York judge who set the bail also ordered that Reynolds be placed on home detention.

Reynolds is accused of trying to smuggle 70 pounds of cocaine from Los Angeles to New York.

TSA officers stopped Reynolds last Friday and sent her to a secondary screening area, but she quickly dropped her bag, ditched her shoes, and fled barefooted down an upward-moving escalator.

However, Reynolds turned herself into authorities on Wednesday.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - JetBlue is scheduled to terminate their service to the island in the month of June.

This was confirmed last week by the Minister of Tourism the Honorable Ingrid Arrindell during the Lady Grace morning show.

The Minister also confirmed that everything is currently being done to have the service continued pointing to talks with the airline that are currently ongoing.

The Minister stated that JetBlue took the decision due to the low numbers that they have been experiencing.

More can now be heard via PodCast.

NASSAU, Bahamas – A JetBlue flight took a hard landing at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) in the Bahamas on Friday.

Flight #29 reported a landing gear malfunction as it was arriving to the Bahamas from Washington National Airport, according to a statement from JetBlue.

The Civil Aviation Department (CAD) said that a Jet Blue 29 Embraer 190 travelling to the Bahamas from Washington Dulles Airport (KIAD) had declared an emergency due to a landing gear problem.

Aviation officials said that only the right main gear was extended, and that both the left main gear and the nose gear were not.

“The pilot in command made a decision to attempt a landing at LPIA, and after burning some fuel, executed a safe landing…with the use of both the left and right main gear only. The nose gear was not extended. All passengers and crew were determined to be uninjured,” the CAD said in a statement

Pilots landed the Embraer 190 in Nassau using the aircraft’s rear landing gear.

The airline says there were no immediate reports of injuries.

LONDON – Drones, the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) loved by hobbyists, but which have important everyday commercial and other applications, are starting to become an issue in the Caribbean, raising unusual questions for governments and the tourism industry about freedom, safety and security.

In the last month it has emerged, for example, that while an estimated 5,000 drones are using Dominican Republic airspace, almost all of their owners are not complying with the local regulations covering the devices.

In a recent interview with Diario Libre, the Director of the Dominican Institute of Civil Aviation’s (IDAC) Flight Operations Department, Pablo Cabrera, said that since April 2015 when regulations were introduced to control the use of UAVs in Dominican airspace, just 27 operators had registered at IDAC. Mr Cabrera said that most who had done so were those who undertake commercial activities, such as filming, or topographical measuring for engineering or agriculture.

So concerned has Barbados become about UAV use, that it recently announced a 12-month prohibition on their importation. The Customs and Excise Department said that the ban from April 1 would allow the authorities to complete a legal framework to govern the use of such devices and determine the number in operation in Barbados. A spokesperson for the Customs and Excise Department noted that concerns had been raised about the potential for their misuse and the risks posed to safety, security and privacy. He also said that said that during the last two years there had been a significant increase in the number of drones for commercial and recreational use being allowed into the country.

As the online hobbyist publication Dronelife.com, demonstrates, taking your drone on a vacation, particularly for younger travellers, has become what the publication describes as an ‘epic way to catalogue your summer exploits’; is much cooler than taking selfies; and is the best way of ‘capturing your visit to the beaches of the Caribbean’.

Fun aside, Dronelife recognises the growing challenges faced by visitors travelling with a UAV, with its readers citing examples of having to pay duty in the Bahamas, a complete ban in Nicaragua, the more common experience of uncertainty among customs officers and the police in nations from St Vincent to Cuba, and a lack of certainty about which if any Caribbean country requires a licence to fly a UAV. There are also it seems, significant airline safety concerns relating to checking-in drones because of the lithium batteries they use.

What this demonstrates is how unprepared the region is for new technology. It also makes clear that there is no joined up Caribbean approach as to their use by either citizens or visitors, that better and more consistent regulations are now required, and in the case of tourists, appropriate information should be made available before they depart for the region.

The trouble with this is that few Caribbean islands have relevant legislation other than in relation to kite flying.  Even where there are UAV-specific regulations, it is unlikely that any country has a police force equipped or able to catch those who break the rules. Moreover, it is clear from online blogs by drone flyers that it is very hard for them to discover what local controls exist as to where they may or may not fly their craft without permission.

The paramount issue is of course safety and security. Drones pose a significant danger if used close to airports and are a potential threat if flown over or near military or other facilities such as prisons or certain government offices, where elevated security is required.

This is resulting in an increasing number of warnings from local authorities in the region to private and commercial operators, noting that they could face prosecution if they are caught flying their devices in designated zones.

However, even then the rules are far from consistent. For instance, Barbados already restricts recreational flying of UAVs to four designated areas in the country and requires an operating licence, while other countries prefer an approach that designates where they cannot be flown.

On the positive side, however, commercially used UAVs have become a key support and promotional vehicle for the marketing of hotels in many Caribbean destinations and locations, as well as to sell real estate to overseas buyers. This is because of their bird-like ability to fly and swoop over islands, hotels, beaches and the countryside, providing high resolution panoramic and close up pictures in ways that, with the right soundtrack and voice-over, add dramatically to the ability to romanticise and sell a vacation or property.  They also have an increasingly important role in the Caribbean in monitoring environmental issues, for weather forecasting, and in relation to national security.

As a consequence, many companies are emerging in the region and internationally specialising in UAV photography and other applications and are actively selling their services to governments, tourist boards, hoteliers, politicians and all manner of local and international agencies.

Offsetting this is the issue of personal privacy. Hoteliers and the tourism industry are regularly concerned about how to protect their VIP and celebrity guests who value the approach that most Caribbean destinations and citizens take in respecting their privacy. However, this is changing as the international media have begun to pay large sums for pictures or video footage of movie stars, footballers, politicians, and others in the privacy of their villa or hotel.

This is leading to drone users from paparazzi to individuals not just seeking out the well-known, but in some cases picturing visitors who have come to the Caribbean because it offers them the opportunity to enjoy themselves in the company they chose.

Drones are yet another form of disruptive technology that governments, the security services and the tourism industry in the Caribbean will have to come to terms with. The Caribbean cannot avoid being in the stream of global change meaning that whatever new technologies takes hold in North America and Europe, will become the new normal in the region.

Uber, Airbnb, electric vehicles, cashless transactions, cyber security, and now UAVs are all issues the region requires a response to if it is to embrace the ways in which the world and its own young people’s expectations are changing.

The challenge in the case of UAVs will be to determine how best to balance security, regulation and privacy, against their commercial value and the individual freedom that their operation implies.

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