Jamaica Observer: By Vernon Davidson – Turks and Caicos Islands-based interCaribbean Airways will next month begin a scheduled weekly flight from that territory to Ian Fleming International Airport in St Mary, a development that Transport and Mining Minister Robert Montague said should pump in excess of US$2 million (approximately $311 million) into the Jamaican economy.

Montague announced the new service yesterday, saying the flights form part of the Airports Authority of Jamaica’s efforts to increase traffic in and out of the island’s smallest international airport.

He said that in continuation of that effort he and his team are now in discussions with four regional airlines and two in the United States to provide service to Ian Fleming Airport to “ensure easier access to hotels, villas and guest houses in northern parishes and further boost the growing popularity of Jamaica’s north-eastern region among visitors”.

Montague, however, opted not to name the airlines at this time as the talks are not yet complete.

Yesterday, interCaribbean’s founder and Chairman Lyndon Gardiner told the Jamaica Observer that the new service is scheduled to begin on January 13, 2022, and will add to the already five weekly flights the carrier operates between Providenciales and Kingston.

Gardiner, who said the airline will observe its 30th year of operations next February, explained that it already has a strong connection to the tourism and business travel markets, and as such this new flight represents an expansion of the carrier’s service “to cater to those markets”.

He also said that many Jamaicans who are now in the Turks and Caicos, especially those working at Beaches resorts, are from the northern belt of Jamaica. “So, we do believe that putting all those things together we will have sufficient enough following to justify these additional flights”.

That point was highlighted by Montague who told the Observer that approximately 8,000 Jamaicans are living and working in the Turks and Caicos Islands, while another 600 work directly in the tourism industry.

“So there’s a healthy movement of people from Jamaica living in Turks, but what we’ve found is that the bulk of them come from the northern part of Jamaica, and the airline saw it as an opportunity to serve that market,” Montague said, adding that the new service will provide land travel convenience to those Jamaicans.

Sandals Executive Chairman Adam Stewart described the development as “a pivotal moment for international travel to Jamaica” and applauded Montague for “his exceptional efforts to take this long-held dream across the finish line”.

Stating that Sandals is the largest non-government employer in the Caribbean and the biggest operator and employer in the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI), Stewart said, “It is therefore significant for us that the inaugural scheduled weekly international flights will be from the TCI to the home of so many Jamaicans and their families who work in the TCI. We have no doubt that these flights into the Ian Fleming International Airport will also act as the positive signal to other carriers to do likewise; paving the way for a robust utilisation of the airport and allowing easier accessibility to the north-eastern region of our island.”

The additional flights, said Stewart, who is also executive chairman of the Observer, “will not only reduce exorbitant costs and excessive travel time, but as the demand for travel continues to grow and tourism rebounds, this opens a much-needed avenue of improved options for [regional] tourism as well as multi-island vacationing for visitors to our tourism-dependent islands. Split stays between Caribbean destinations are now a reality and, with regional exposure, a wider playing field lays ahead”.

Meanwhile, Montague pointed to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which started as a small airfield in the late 1920s, growing over the years to serve more than 16 million passengers in 2020 and, according to data from that airport, generated in excess of US$37.5 billion in economic activity annually before the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Ian Fleming is supposed to be for private planes and regional airlines, so interCaribbean coming is the first step of getting, not necessarily the same results, but at least along the same path,” Montague said.

“We have done some improvements at the airport to facilitate international flights. We’ve put in a police station, we’re about to put in a fire station, we’ve upgraded the equipment, we have Customs and immigration there, and the airport can now accommodate regional flights from as far as Miami,” Montague said.

A news release on the development from Montague’s ministry stated that interCaribbean will operate 30-seater planes, given the limitations regarding the size of aircraft that can fly in and out of Ian Fleming.

Yesterday Gardiner pointed out that the carrier serves 26 cities in 16 countries across the Caribbean. He also said that on December 17 it will launch direct service between Barbados and Guyana.

Previously known as Boscobel Aerodrome, Ian Fleming International Airport is named after the British novelist who created the world’s most famous fictional spy James Bond. Fleming wrote some of his most famous novels while living in St Mary.

The airport was originally a limited-service facility that processed about 20,000 passengers annually. Renovations began in early 2009 at a total cost of $300 million. It welcomed its first international flight on May 7, 2010.