CAL 737s on hold for approval
By Vernon Khelawan Thursday, September 22 2011
A Caribbean Airlines request to acquire two additional B-737 aircraft has been put on hold by Government.
Sources at the Ministry of Finance indicate that the request had been received by the ministry for perusal and approval, but the application has since been referred to the Finance and General Purposes committee for study.
As Business Day understands it, the two aircraft were originally intended for the use of the Air Jamaica brand, but with the recent loss of a CAL aircraft in a crash landing at the Cheddi Jagan International airport in Guyana on July 30 (Aircraft registration 9Y
), one of the two new ones would serve as a replacement, while the other would be used in the first instance to resume service between Kingston and Chicago in the United States.
This situation comes on the heels of plans to acquire two used 767-31ER aircraft from Chilean airline Lan Chile, the deal which caused chairman George Nicholas III to offer his resignation to new Transport Minister Senator Devant Maharaj a few weeks ago.
It was reported Nicholas had committed to acquire the two aircraft. On the open market today those planes are listed as costing US$19.62 million each and the current lease rate has been put at US$320,000 each per month. Sources at Piarco say the aircraft are expected by next year April.
The leases, according to sources, which CAL has gone into, are for a five-year period at a monthly lease rate of US$370,000 per aircraft, some US$50,000 above the going rate for such leases. If that lease price turns out to be correct, then it would cost the taxpayers TT
$2.4 million per month per aircraft.
It is understood these planes were being acquired to operate CAL’s intended return to London and according to chairman Nicholas, into Heathrow. The slots at Heathrow which belonged to BWIA were sold by the Lok Jack Board before the start up of CAL on January 1, 2007.
Information coming out of Piarco disclose while a lot of work was continuing behind the scenes relative to the planned London service, nothing definitive has as yet emerged as to a possible startup date, or if in fact permission would be granted to return to Heathrow. Additionally, there’s nothing on the airline’s website regarding the proposed London service.
Speaking to an aviation consultant about using the 767 aircraft for transatlantic service, the point was made to Business Day about the need for a civil aviation licence specifically for such an operation, using a twin-engine aircraft). He said it would be necessary for CAL to have ETOPS certification (ETOPS – Extended Operation Over Water), which it does not now have.
He explained however that such a hurdle could be overcome through a wet lease arrangement whereby another airline, complete with its own cockpit and cabin crew can operate the service for CAL. Whether such a clause is part of the Lan Chile deal is still to be revealed.
Another aviation expert, contacted by Business Day, said he was much more concerned about the expanding fuel subsidy now being enjoyed by CAL and which now includes Air Jamaica. Based on historical data and statistics, a daily service to London out of Piarco would utilise more than ten million gallons of fuel annually. If the planned Kingston-London service is also resurrected, that would account for an additional ten million gallons.
This means taxpayers would be footing a mammoth fuel bill, should these two services be re- introduced. Current jet fuel price is US$3.25 per gallon, but the subsidy allows CAL (including Air Jamaica) to pay only US$1.75.
The two B-767s, expected in Trinidad next year, have been in service with Lan Chile since 1996 and were bought brand new by that airline and they have remained in the Lan Chile system since. The aircraft can be configured in three different ways – with three classes it can seat up to 218 passengers; two classes allow seating for 269, while an all economy cabin would cater for 350 passengers. Based on its history, it could be assumed that Caribbean Airlines would stick with their two-class cabin configuration. The B-767 has a range of just under 6000 miles at a speed of 530 mph flying at 35,000 feet. Its overall length is 180’ 3”, while its wingspan stretches across 156’ 1”, while tail height is 52 feet. The interior cabin measure 15’ 6”.
One of the controversies which dogged the now defunct BWIA for years was its multitude of aircraft types and was an issue with which the Lok Jack Board made heavy weather.
When BWIA was shut down on December 31, 2006, the airline was operating three different types of aircraft – B737s; A-340s and Dash-8-300s.
Should CAL pursue the acquisition of the 767s, as it now seems they would, the company would be operating four aircraft types – B737s;ATR-600-72s; Dash-8-300s and the soon-to be-acquired B-767s – a stores and spares nightmare.
But wait, there is also the desire of Chairman Nicholas to acquire two B-777 aircraft specifically for the London service.