The island nations of the Caribbean depend heavily on air connectivity for tourism and commerce. But they’re also small markets and the interisland route networks are far from robust. Even as the global aviation market struggles to remain in business one Caribbean carrier is planning a regional expansion for later this summer, bridging several islands with new flight opportunities.
Caribbean Airlines, the flag carrier of Trinidad and Tobago, plans to boost its presence at San Juan, Puerto Rico pending government approval. The new daily service will operate as a “milk run,” stopping off at a handful of islands in each direction. The carrier hopes to support tourism in the Leeward Islands, with a push towards rebuilding capacity to levels last seen prior to Hurricane Maria.
By offering service between Trinidad and Tobago and San Juan on the proposed routes, Caribbean Airlines will offer an alternative route for the thousands of U.S. citizens who visit Dominica and Tortola annually, as well as the other intermediate points in the above three routes. Moreover, because no other carrier offers direct service on this route, granting this exemption will not have a significant impact on U.S. carriers. With this additional service CAL supports Dominica and Tortola economy by connecting the islands and dependencies with their most populous diaspora and largest source market for tourism.
The carrier plans three iterations of this new island hopper route, alternating service throughout the week to increase the breadth of connections offered. The flight will begin in Port of Spain, flying to Dominica and then on to Barbados according to filings made this week with the US Department of Transportation. From Barbados the routing splits depending on the day of week. Two days a week will see the flight continue to Antigua, followed by Tortola before terminating at San Juan.
The alternate route sees the flight connect Barbados to St Maarten before continuing to Tortola and then San Juan.
A third option, operating the other three days of the week, will see the carrier fly from Barbados to St. Kitts, Antigua and Guadeloupe according to the filing.
Even with the multiple stops en route, Caribbean Airlines expects to deliver a significant boost to the San Juan – Dominica market. That pairing saw approximately 32,000 annual travelers in 2017 and is down 75% today, according to the company. The carrier expects to double the number of passengers with this new service.
Caribbean Airlines similarly expects to boost traffic to Tortola and to help grow the market connecting San Juan to St. Maarten and Antigua.
These flights will compete with Silver Airways and its planned expansion into the Caribbean market from its San Juan hub. The carrier announced last month intention to move its new ATR aircraft into San Juan and use them to increase capacity to many of these same markets, though usually with nonstop service from San Juan, not providing the direct connectivity between the islands.
Caribbean Airlines is not the only carrier flying a milk run routing through the Caribbean islands. Air France operates an A320 from Cayenne, French Guyana to Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Haiti before arriving in Miami.
The flights are slated to operate on Caribbean Airlines’ ATR 72-600 turboprop with 68 economy class seats on board. The carrier hopes to launch the new service at the beginning of August 2020, pending government approvals and a recovery in the global economy.