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Caribbean Sun inaugurated service Tuesday

By John Collins (1)

Four daily flights to British Virgin Islands starting Thursday with $100 roundtrip fare San Juan/Beef Island.

Caribbean Sun (Sun) , a new airline being launched by Texas millionaire banker Allen Stanford, inaugurated service from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (LMM) to Terrance B. Lettsome Airport on Beef Island in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), said Paul J. Moreira, president of Antigua-based Caribbean Star, at the Caribbean Marketplace.

The number of flights will be increased to four daily effective Thursday and the roundtrip fare is $100, said Moreira. Thirty days later Sun will commence “two to three flights daily” from LMM to St. Kitts to be followed by St. Maarten and Antigua for which the roundtrip fare will also be $100, he added.

Sun is negotiating a code share partnership with “a major U.S. carrier that will permit passengers to travel to Eastern Caribbean destinations in a seamless manner,” said Moreira. He declined to identify the airline but did say “it would provide through service to Eastern Caribbean destinations either via San Juan or Antigua.”

Plans to follow shortly there after include “extension of service to the Dominican Republic (D.R.) , then Jamaica and continuing westward,” said Moreira.  Sun, an airline based in a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was recently purchased by Stanford. Moreira described it as “a sister company” of Caribbean Star (Star), based in Antigua, which is also owned by Stanford.

The two airlines, which will operate as separate entities, according to Moreira, have a combined fleet of 12 37- and 50-passenger Dash-8 aircraft with options to acquire six more. “The difference between the two companies is that one has U.S. ownership and the other Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) ownership,” said Moreira.

The distinctions result from restrictions of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the entry of aircraft based in a Category 2  country into the U.S. including Puerto Rico. Antigua & Barbuda (A&B) and other OECS countries are subject to the restriction whereas Sun, which has a 121 operating certificate issued by the FAA, is registered in Fort Lauderdale, considered Category 1.

Denying that Sun is entering into direct competition with American Eagle (Eagle), Moreira said “our pricing will be competitive because we want to bring the people of the Caribbean together. Eagle plays a vital role in the region. There is enough business to go around.”

Pilot controversy a factor

Since 1999 Eagle has regularly predicted 2 million passengers annually but still has not reached that total. Observers indicate the performance in the D.R. is strong while it is experiencing stiff competition in some of its other destinations. Its sale by AMR to Executive Air is currently being opposed by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).


So the startup of service by Sun gives Eagle another concern but it insists that it will compete with all existing and new airlines entering the market. It describes its advantages as its experience, equipment and availability and the fact that two out of every three passengers it carries connect to or from an American Airlines flight at San Juan. 

A number of aviation experts point to several areas to watch. Some describe Stanford and his airline team as “tough guys who regularly conduct price wars to achieve market dominance in routes where they want to increase sales.” Also serving the Eastern Caribbean corridor, in addition to Star, Sun and Eagle, are Liat, as well as American, Air Jamaica, US Airways and BWIA, among others.

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1) Other articles by the well known Caribbean author John Collins can be read at:
www.pymesdominicanas.com

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January 25, 2002

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