Writer: Desi Dijkhuizen
Since the beginning of 2020, more and more countries across the world have shut down borders and limited domestic travel as a response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Thus, cancelling almost all flights to control the spread of the virus has affected the entire airline industry globally. The aviation industry in the Caribbean is no exception. The Curaçao Business Magazine had an interesting and hopeful interview with Antonio Ribeiro, Managing Director of Jetair Caribbean, a private commercial airline based in Curaçao that offers scheduled and charter flights to and from the Caribbean and South America. Even though this newly inaugurated airline did not receive the opportunity to continue its flight schedules due to the pandemic, the airline remains optimistic for the aviation industry’s long-term development.
Antonio Ribeiro is no stranger to the local business industry. He was the owner of well-known successful companies Curaçao Telecom and Polytronica, and nowadays he is the owner of Jetair Caribbean. “Honestly, I had no experience in the aviation industry. I dove into this complicated and meaningful business that taught me about the essential complex facets of the aviation network”, says Antonio at the beginning of the interview. Retired for approximately fifteen years, his determination and love for Curaçao fuels him to continue working for the welfare of the country. As a senior entrepreneur, he has years of business experience and is eager to embrace new opportunities. “I like to work. I have been working all my life. I will not stay home and watch Netflix. I keep going!” Antonio says with a quick laugh.
Jetair Caribbean operates under an agreement with United Caribbean Airlines, a charter company which started in 2006, and applied for its commercial Air Operating Certificate in 2018 which was approved in November 2019. After intense preparations, the airline could finally operate in February 2020. The Jetair fleet consists of 2 Fokker 70 jet aircrafts, both with a capacity of 80 seats and offers flights from Curaçao to Sint Maarten, Kingston, Santo Domingo, and Port-au-Prince. The airline industry is dynamic, competitive and demands knowledge and professional abilities in different departments, for example the diverse and innovative product line of aircrafts, the line and staff personnel, customer service, subcontractors, and departments for operations, maintenance, sales and marketing. “We have been through a long and rough ride to make Jetair Caribbean a reality. The former local airlines did not make it any easier for us with the image that they created, and Jetair Caribbean had to pay a very high price with the local Aviation Authorities for what they left behind. We needed to rebuild trust to reach bilateral agreements and create our business reputation, because of all the complicated airline scenarios that happened in the past. Yes, we had lots of setbacks and we are still facing challenges. Our mission is to provide a safe customer-oriented air transportation product with a high level of customer service and on-time performance in an efficient and friendly manner,” he continues.
Besides the past challenges in the local aviation industry, Jetair Caribbean is also facing the consequences of Curaçao’s downgrade to Category 2. Curaçao has been fighting for eight years to regain the Category 1 status that the island lost in 2012 after an inspection from the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA safety rating is issued as part of the agency’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) Program. This program assesses a country’s ability, not the ability of individual air carriers, to adhere to international aviation safety standards and recommended practices established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). A Category 1 rating means the country’s civil aviation authority does comply with ICAO standards, while a Category 2 means it does not. “With an IASA Category 1 rating, a country’s air carriers can establish service to the United States and carry the code of U.S. carriers. In order to maintain a Category 1 rating, a country must adhere to the safety standards of ICAO, the United Nations’ technical agency for aviation that establishes international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance. It is for this reason that Jetair Caribbean cannot operate in the United States, which results in limitations in the development of our tourism industry”, he explains.
“As previously mentioned, Jetair Caribbean started to operate in February 2020, just one month before the outbreak of coronavirus in Curaçao. Before the pandemic, the aviation sector was looking confidently ahead to the future. Barely any sector has been hit as hard by the coronavirus crisis as the global aviation and travel industry. We never received the opportunity to show our potential as a trustworthy airline. We started flying in February, but stopped shortly after due to travel bans and airspace closures”, he continues.
As scheduled commercial airline services declined or were temporarily suspended, many airlines turned to cargo, charter and repatriation flights as new sources of revenue. No one can say with any confidence when international aviation will be able to resume and, when it does, how quickly demand will recover. Even the broader questions about economic recovery have no clear answers. “In the meanwhile, we do provide repatriation and crew change flights. I hope that this pandemic ends soon so we can resume normal flights and start adding new countries to our list”, Antonio mentions. While eagerly waiting for the situation to improve, he hopes to add Jamaica and Colombia as approved destination countries.
Many international groups are exploring possible pathways to facilitate a “restart” of international airline aviation and domestic flights around the world. Flights are slowly resuming as borders open after months of COVID-19 lockdown. Antonio believes in the quality of his airline and the great potential of Curaçao. “At Jetair Caribbean, we have a realistic mindset. The many years of business experience has given me the confidence and determination to focus on the future. We need to be innovative and build the industry in a positive way. We create what we believe in and then implement it. We are confident that things will completely normalize, so we focus on our vision to become a major regional airline in the Caribbean. I would like to finalize this interview saying I will do my utmost to preserve Jetair Caribbean, with the objective to provide Curaçao a high quality airline and step up to fill the gap left by the previous local airlines.”
For more information on Jetair Caribbean, visit https://www.jetaircaribbean.com/