It often takes less time and a more competitive price to cross the wide Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean than to get from one corner of the archipelago to another. These two facts are expected to take a hit with the launch of Caribsky, a new code-sharing of three regional air carriers.
The historic agreement, signed on Tuesday in Guadeloupe’s Creole Beach Hotel, links Windward Islands Airways International Winair, the national carrier of St. Maarten and the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, with French carrier Air Antilles and LIAT, one of the main airlines servicing a wide swath of, in particular, the English-speaking Caribbean.
Further than seeking to offer seamless connected travel in the region, Caribsky also pulls together the Dutch-, French- and English-speaking parts of the region with a collective fleet of 25 aircraft. Those aircraft are targeted to move some 1.4 million passengers on 70,000 flights annually, on some 32 routes.
Travellers cannot yet rush out and book a single ticket via one partner that covers multiple destinations in Caribsky. Winair Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Michael Cleaver told The Daily Herald that inking the agreement was just the start. “We are now working out the routes, schedules and ticketing. It will take another four to six weeks,” for the seamless ticket to come online, he said.
That one ticket will open travel to the 18 destinations served by Winair and Air Antilles, and the 14 (soon to be 15 as of May with the re-addition the United States Virgin Islands) destinations of LIAT. Passengers will be filtered through five hubs including St. Maarten, Guadeloupe and Antigua.
The three partners of Caribsky strongly believe that a single airline cannot solve the travel connection issues in the region. The solution is “through cooperation” of airlines while the carriers still “keep their own identity.”
St. Maarten Tourism, Economic Affairs and Transportation Minister Cornelius de Weever said, “Although Caribsky is still in its infancy, by our airlines coming together the benefits which will be obtained by our mutual tourist industries … and our people will also greatly benefit by greater accessibility and affordable travel in our region.”
The three-year project is aimed at optimising air travel on a new network of truly interconnected airlines. This should ultimately foster free movement of people and boost economic growth, explained Air Antilles CEO Serge Tsygalnitzky at the launch.
The seed of the partnership was sowed in St. Maarten in talks with Cleaver, Tsygalnitzky said. Air Antilles and Winair already have a partnership going back several years. Talks started in 2014.
LIAT CEO Julie Reifer-Jones said getting to the signing was “a long difficult road for us.” Hurricanes slamming into the region also impacted the speed of completing the partnership.
Speaking of the airlines’ cooperation, LIAT Board of Directors Chairman Jean Holder said, “We are the airline-dependent region of the world.” The Caribbean’s social, economic and cultural life is fuelled by connectivity, he noted.
Vice President for the Region of Guadeloupe Marie-Luce Penchard, who worked on the forging of the partnership via Interreg Caribbean Programme, a European Territorial Cooperation programme, called the agreement “a source of pride” for her personally and for the region. The partnership sprang from the premise that “there is no tourism growth for the region if there is no proper transportation,” she said, adding that Europe should “strive to support” its overseas territories more.
The funding of Caribsky is one way “how Europe can contribute to tourism growth in the region,” said Guadeloupe Deputy Préfet Jean-Michel Jumez.
Caribsky, co-funded by Interreg Caribbean Programme, has a price tag of 4.6 million euros, including 1.8 million euros from the European Regional Development Fund and 417,500 euros from the European Development Fund (EDF). The balance is self-financed by Air Antilles, Winair, LIAT and Discover Dominica.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Permanent Secretary Godfrey Pompey described Caribsky as one “to explore and forge new partnership for our people.” His island chain is a shareholder of LIAT.
The Daily Herald