What is undoubtedly the Caribbean’s largest privately owned airline company, interCaribbean Airways, is set to start servicing the Barbados to St. Vincent air-bridge as early as August 4, 2020.
This was according to the airline’s founder and current Chairman Lyndon Gardiner who spoke exclusively with Asbert News Network on Wednesday July 29. The 53 years-old Turks and Caicos islander recounted his company’s progress since he purchased his first plane in 1991 while paying some attention to corporate milestones achieved across the almost 3 decades since he began servicing the industry.
“We began scheduled operations in 2001; we did a company name change in 2003 because at that time it was just generally a whole lot of development taking place in Turks and Caicos. So there was the need to basically bring construction workers or merchants between Turks and Caicos and a number of neighboring islands – Bahamas, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Haiti just to name a few.
“Then in 2013 we changed the name of the company to interCaribbean [Airways]. That was done, primarily, to take advantage of the new vision that we had; which is to offer an extended Caribbean combination air service.
“Since then we have solidified our position on a number of routes and I believe – pre-COVID – we’re now up to 14 countries and 23 cities. I think COVID has presented us with the opportunity to grow further in the Eastern Caribbean; extending our reach and holding the crown, if you would, being the only ‘pan-Caribbean’ airline.
“Pan-Caribbean in that sense means that we can take you from, clearly, any number of the new destinations or shall we say – for the moment – Barbados in the East to Havana in the West. Certainly we have plans now to expand as far as not only Trinidad but as far as Guyana.”
Plans are also afoot to link the Guyana to Havana air-bridge although Chairman Gardiner was tightlipped about a precise timeframe. In the meantime interCaribbean Airways is at a heightened state of readiness to commence operations out of Barbados as of August 4, 2020, Gardiner also reported.
However Vincentian bound/based passengers would have to endure local government’s lethargic progress in processing the requisite licenses before any of interCaribbean’s privately held 16 aircrafts could begin to traverse local skies.
“As it relates to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, we submitted an application for licenses that have not been determined yet. Once we get a determination on the licenses then we would be able to announce a start date….
“We expect it to be done sometime soon because apparently that is the process and we’re in the middle of the process as I understand it,” Gardiner also explained.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves is also responsible for aviation related matters locally. Our efforts to reach him regarding this licensing process are yet to bear fruit.
In the meantime strategies to satisfy the Guyanese porting regulations are unfolding, as Gardiner guides his homegrown aviation outfit towards achieving another benchmark: serving the Guyanese market before year’s end. Barbados, St. Vincent and Grenada are all expected to be added to this eruption of new routes being offered by interCaribbean Airways. St. Lucia, Dominica and Antigua are the other Eastern Caribbean states that are already being served.
“Only the sun covers the Caribbean better than we do,” Gardiner beamed as he extolled his company’s expansion thrust.
A fully trained and one time self-employed pilot, Chairman Gardiner also offered some insight to the “number of things that are working in combination” to contribute to interCaribbean Airways’ projected unparalleled success, especially, in the Eastern Caribbean.
“One of them has to do with the size of our airplanes. They are not small airplanes but when compared to LIAT they take less people. They take 30 people instead of 48 people…. That means that we have the right sized airplanes for the market. The other thing that we are looking at is the Caribbean enhanced schedule and thirdly we are looking at increasing, in terms of the frequency, more direct flights.
“So [with] a combination of those things we certainly believe that the airline would be successful because a) we’re flying the right sized airplane, b) we’d be flying at the times people would want to go from point A to point B; both in terms of timing and in terms of the number or frequency during the day.”
LIAT’s current struggles, Gardiner agreed, helped to accelerate interCaribbean Airway’s expansion plans. “We always had a plan to develop more of an Eastern Caribbean presence… our plan was to be in present in all the major Caribbean islands by 2025. We had planned for a longer run but the opportunity has presented itself so we can do it quicker.”
The former banker and lifelong entrepreneur converted his life’s lessons into business success over the span of his professional career. In 2004, he was awarded the Businessman of the Year prize having developed several other fruitful business ventures. Today InterIsland Airways, Gardiner’s maiden voyage into the commercial air travel industry, has grown into the multi-business enterprise known as InterIsland Aviation Services Group.
Inarguably one of the largest employers and privately owned companies in Turks and Caicos, the IIAS Group offers a full range of aviation services, particularly to the Northern Caribbean. Its portfolio includes, Caribbean Aviation Maintenance Services Ltd, Provo Air Center and Flight Support Ltd and interCaribbean Airways.
One Canadian aviation specialist, in a 2018 blog, described Gardiner as a visionary who “sees the forest and not just the trees… in the Caribbean [aviation industry].”
Although Gardiner did not quantify the projected number of jobs that are expected to be when his company sets up shop on mainland St. Vincent, the shrewd businessman listed, amongst other benefits that would accrue here, access to jobs and training beyond Vincentian shores with his company.
And when there are no more skies left to conquer, Gardiner hopes to turn his attention towards educating the next several generations of Caribbean based aviation service providers.
“My dream really is to create a Caribbean institution to provide opportunities in aviation which is a highly skilled field. … Not only in terms of providing employment but I long for one day when we would have a Caribbean university that focuses on the aviation sciences and the disciplines that are involved in aviation from maybe a mechanic to a pilot to flight dispatching to accounting.
“There are so many disciplines that you’d need to have a proper working airline. Obviously we would have the ability to provide those trainings … and my goal is not to provide people that would only come and work for this company. We need to create opportunities for as many of our people as we can. A number of them would stay within the region, be it with us or with other airlines, and some of them would probably go off abroad and bring recognition to the Caribbean by excellence in their disciplines.
“So that is where I see the long term goal in creating a well ran, well-respected Caribbean brand that gives back to the community by training and also by creating employment for as many people as possible.”
Potential interCaribbean Airways passengers can also look forward to comfortably priced tickets particularly since, “as a Caribbean person investing in the Caribbean, we’re making a long term investment so we don’t have the desire to get cash quickly. That being said, also … we have a different operating structure that we can bring to the market. We certainly believe that we can offer competitive pricing to the market and we also believe that the government’s push to lower taxes can have a significant impact on the cost of tickets,” Chairman Gardiner said.