Caribbean Airlines, which planned to expand routes to Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, is facing a challenge from Cape Air. (Photo: CREATIVE COMMONS)

In recent months, Virgin Islands leaders have said that new flights proposed by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines likely would help ease the territory’s air access woes as regional airline LIAT struggles with financial difficulties.

But Cape Air has now filed an objection to Caribbean Airlines’ recent application to United States aviation authorities for expanded traffic rights between the Beef Island and San Juan airports.

In June, Premier Andrew Fahie told the House of Assembly that representatives from Caribbean Airlines had visited the airport with a view toward adding the VI to their route network.

The next month, BVI Airports Authority Chairman Bevis Sylvester also promoted the airline, saying that the VI must “do what we must” to serve traditional routes and expand to new markets.

“We are currently in heightened discussions with InterCaribbean [Airways] and Caribbean Airlines, with the hope that those two private partners will be able to expand their BVI routes beyond the pre-Covid structure, so that we can quickly fill the void left behind by LIAT,” Mr. Sylvester said.

Last month, officials associated with the Antigua-headquartered LIAT announced that the airline would likely be liquidated, although those plans appear to have been halted, with the company now promising a reorganisation designed to keep it afloat.

Messrs. Fahie and Sylvester did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

Planned routes

In April, Caribbean Airlines said it hoped to launch islandhopper Caribbean routes from Trinidad and Tobago to San Juan starting this month. In an application to the US Department of Transportation for the reinstatement and expansion of its lapsed exemption authority, the company said it planned to launch three new multi-stop routes between Port of Spain, Trinidad and San Juan, each of which would make stops at Beef Island.

In the application, Caribbean Airlines also identified Beef Island as a point not served by any US carrier. However, Cape Air said in its filing that Cape Air has been running the San Juan-Beef Island route since 1999 and claimed to be the largest airline flying that route.

According to schedules from Swiss aviation news site ch-aviation.com, Cape Air plans to fly this route 41 times weekly during the summer 2020 season using two types of 10-passenger aircraft, notwithstanding the possible impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Additionally, Seaborne Virgin Islands also serves the route as a US-flagged airline, as well as Seaborne’s mainland-based parent Silver Airways and the US-flagged, Puerto Rico-based carrier Air Sunshine, according to schedules from ch-aviation.com.

Therefore, Cape Air stated, “Caribbean Airlines’ rationale for incremental exemption authority is predicated on grounds that are fundamentally untrue. Further, permitting entrance of a third-country airline in a market that has been painstakingly cultivated and invested in by Cape Air and other US carriers would undermine the rationale for future investments in air service.”

The proposed Caribbean Airlines routes included a twice-weekly Trinidad-Dominica-Barbados-St. Maarten-VI-Puerto Rico route beginning Aug. 1; a twice-weekly Trinidad-Dominica-Barbados-Antigua-VI-Puerto Rico route
beginning Aug. 3; and a thrice-weekly Trinidad-Dominica-Barbados-St. Kitts-VI-Puerto Rico route beginning Aug. 4, according to ch-aviation.

All three routes would be operated with 70-seat aircraft.

Suspended flights

In its application, Caribbean Airlines stated that the only two new points not covered by the airline’s existing authority are Dominica and Beef Island. As of April, though, most of the airline’s existing routes were suspended due to the Covid19 pandemic.

The airlines did not immediately respond to requests for comments.


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