Planned expansion at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA)
By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
NEW YORK, USA -- The flying public is again complaining that airfares between North America and Guyana are at an all-time high again, averaging roundtrip US$800 to 1,200 between New York and Georgetown, this with an announcement last week that the modernization and expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) will be completed by the end of 2017, and the government’s inability to attract reputable North American based carriers to ply the New York/Guyana route.
More recently, Insel Air and Flyallways Airlines ended their services to Guyana due to reported financial and airworthiness issues that took them out of the sky; however, this development has little to do with the sudden airfare increase between JFK and Georgetown.
Caribbean Airlines (CAL) is the only regular scheduled carrier plying the JFK/Georgetown route. It has served the Guyanese community for over 50 years.
Monitoring the websites of airlines servicing Guyana from North America, it looks like the average airfare between JFK and Georgetown, currently, and throughout much of the year, on CAL, Fly Jamaica, and Eastern Airlines, is about US$800 roundtrip. COPA Airline via Panama City fluctuates between US$1,000 to 1,200. CAL appears to be cashing in on its JFK/Georgetown non-stop flight, with an average of US$900 roundtrip.
Fly Jamaica, Eastern and Dynamic Airlines are all charter companies that are plying the lucrative JFK/Georgetown route. Their service has been marred by delays and cancellations. Eastern and Fly Jamaica have had fewer delays and cancellations in the past few months, and Dynamic Airlines is showing some improvements.
Airfares to Guyana from New York for summer and the Christmas season have already been fixed since last year. Guyanese not flying with Dynamic will have to pay US$800 or more this summer and December to visit Guyana. That will increase, as summer and the winter approaches. Interestingly, one can fly from Toronto to Guyana on CAL or COPA this summer for a little over US$600 round trip.
Is CAL exploiting the large NYC/Georgetown market? CAL already disclosed that the “Guyana-NY route is one of our cash cows” according to its executive Fazal Karim, who revealed that the Guyana-New York route is its most profitable route.
A frequent flyer on CAL, Susan Gonzalez, who often travels between JFK and Georgetown, did some research and booked on Dynamic Airways to travel to Guyana sometime in March for US$560 round trip. This included two free suitcases, which she is excited about. On the other hand, a CAL agent quoted her US$900.
Gonzalez complained about CAL’s poor customer service and lack of an office in NYC. Instead, she had to travel to their office at JFK to resolve an issue that could have been sorted out had a CAL representative informed her of the necessary documents to be completed and brought to the office. She made a futile trip to the JFK office and was kept waiting by the manager on duty who was on the phone for a long time.
Dynamic Airways, a non-scheduled US-owned airline that plies the JFK/Georgetown route about four times weekly, is notorious for delays and cancellations. On several occasions it has left passengers stranded; however, its lower airfares continue to attract passengers.
Guyana is unlike tourist markets such as Dubai, Nairobi or Addis Ababa, and airfares from NYC to these destinations average US$800 round trip. However, Guyana is a small regional market with poor aviation infrastructure, and too often drugs get on board North American bound airlines; these are some reasons why airfares to Guyana remain exorbitant.
Efforts to have Delta Airlines return to Guyana have failed. JetBlue, which flies to regional markets like Port of Spain and Kingston, have been approached several times to commence service to Guyana, which by year end will open a new state of the art and larger air terminal and an extended runway to accommodate wide-body aircraft. The government is using this to convince reputable carriers to add Guyana to their network.
Since coming to office in May 2015, President David Granger’s administration is yet to bring a reputable international carrier to Guyana and this despite about US$200 million being spent to modernize and expand the airport. However, Guyana’s mega oil discoveries and a US$5 billion investment by ExxonMobil to extract and market Guyana’s black gold, will give the government more leverage to attract foreign carriers.
The most pressing issues facing international airlines wanting to enter the Guyana market is the fact that the country has become a cocaine hub. The white substance, with the aid of officials and workers at CJIA and now also at the Eugene F. Correira International Airport, has made its way numerous times on airplanes out of Guyana. This is the major reason why Delta pulled out of the Guyana market in 2013.
Expensive jet fuel at CJIA was also an issue that the airline faced, but the government has broken the jet fuel monopoly at CJIA and that has lowered jet fuel price there since Delta left. Other problems Delta faced, according to one of its employee, was theft of passenger luggage, and delays in turning around the plane quickly back to North America. All these issues cost the airline money.
However, the Granger administration last year approved the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to open a branch in Guyana. This has allowed for the sharing of intelligence between the two governments. The government also accepted the United Kingdom’s financial and technical support to improve the security sector of Guyana.
Numerous CJIA employees have been fired for colluding in the cocaine trade, and fewer drugs are getting on board airplanes. With limited resources, the government is even talking about using drones to monitor its air and sea defences.