Caribbean budget airline to fly to Trinidad

July 19, 2011 - 8:30 PM

KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Caribbean's first discount airline has received the go-ahead to fly to Trinidad, ending a monthslong conflict with government regulators.

Ian Burns, the Irish CEO of short-haul, low-cost REDjet, announced Tuesday that commercial flights between the airline's Barbados hub and Trinidad will begin July 28. Booking for tickets has started.

"We are delighted to bring low fares to passengers and still believe that the REDjet model is a compelling consumer proposition that will revolutionize travel in the Caribbean," Burns said from Barbados.

Burns has previously blamed delays in getting flight authorization to a political fear of competition for the region's government-affiliated carriers.

Trinidad, the home of government-affiliated Caribbean Airlines, denied REDjet entry for months, citing safety and other regulatory concerns. Trinidadian officials only authoritized REDjet's entry after the country's civil aviation agency settled a lawsuit by Airone Holdings Limited, the airline's owner. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed by either side.

The carrier has so far only been operating routes from Barbados to Guyana, using two 149-seat MD-82 passenger jets.

In a statement, Trinidad's transport minister, Devant Majaraj, said all the "stringent regulatory requirements including safety have been met and are complied with."

"We are certain that the consuming public in Trinidad and Tobago and the region would welcome a choice in air travel at this time. It is reflective of this country's commitment to the region and to the development of our Caricom partners," Majaraj said.

A spokeswoman with Caribbean Airlines, which recently concluded its acquisition of Air Jamaica, did not immediately return calls for comment. Air Jamaica has racked up about $1.2 billion in debt.

REDjet is clearing hurdles in other islands it hopes to operate from. This week, Oscar Derby, director-general of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority, said island authorities had no more safety concerns about REDjet.

On Tuesday, Jamaica's Ministry of Transport said REDjet was close to getting authorization to fly to the island but the government was not ready to make an official announcement.

Burns, a former partner of a British accounting firm, has said he hopes to create a Caribbean version of Europe's cut-rate Ryanair by advertising flights for as little as $10. He says REDjet will make it dramatically easier for people across the islands to fly and do business. People in the Caribbean have long complained that costly, inefficient air service has held back investment and jobs.

Aviation analysts agree a low-fare alternative is needed since the Caribbean is one of the costliest airline markets in the world.

Burns predicted REDjet will succeed by cutting costs and frills: no free food or business class service, fast turnarounds at airports to save on parking fees, no overnighting by staff and only Internet reservations to eliminate booking offices.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has barred Barbados-based carriers from flying to the U.S. because the island does not meet international standards for monitoring airline operations.

Burns has said U.S. flights are not a priority at the moment.