Spirit cuts Cayman flights

| 04/09/2008

(CNS): In the wake of local reports that Spirit Air is pulling out of the Cayman Islands market CNS has learned that the airline intends to reduce its operations to a seasonal service. A spokesperson from the airline said that from this month flights would cease until next year.

“Spirit is suspending its Cayman service as of 1 September and plans to resume in March 2009 during the high season. Spirit plans to operate seasonally unless we see changes in the demand for more service,” the official said. Although rumours had suggested that Spirit Air would be cutting its Cayman route altogether at this stage, the airline said it intends to continue operating during half of the year only.

Spirit Air flew its inaugural flight into Cayman on 9 February 2006, and arrived promising to cut fares between Cayman and Florida by half and maximize journey options to travellers. At the time of the airline’s arrival, the Chief Marketing Officer, Barry Biffle, said Spirit would carve its own niche in the market with its fares and multiple journeys.

Aiming to carry locals as well as visitors, the airline was hoping to capitalized on its position as a low fare carrier in the Caribbean. “We are not trying to kill Cayman Airways; we have our clientele that will travel to the Cayman Islands. And we are offering many more connections to other major cities in the US and elsewhere,” he said at the time.

The Fort Lauderdale-based airline is one of the leading low cost carriers to the Caribbean. It started life in 1980 as Charter One, a Detroit-based charter tour operator providing travel packages to entertainment destinations such as Atlantic City, Las Vegas and the Bahamas. In 1992 Charter One brought jet equipment into the fleet and changed its name to Spirit Airlines.

In November 2001 Spirit inaugurated service to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and over the years added flights to the Bahamas, Jamaica, the US Virgin Islands, and then to the Cayman Islands. In June the airline began a service to Trinidad and in July it became the first ultra-low cost carrier to offer daily service between Fort Lauderdale and Bogota, Colombia. While the airline continues its expansion to other Caribbean and Latin American destinations, Cayman seems to be falling out of favour.

In response to rising fuel prices in July, Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza said the airline could not just sit back and hope for fuel prices to fall but that the airline had to attack the challenge by adapting its business to the structural change in fuel prices. “We are in a better position than any other carrier in the Americas to succeed in this environment. By becoming more aggressive than ever on non-fuel costs, raising non-ticket revenues and continuing to grow our Latin America network while trimming lower performing flights, we will win.”

Spirit has cut flights to Turks & Caicos Islands and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, as well as Cayman.

Cutbacks have become the norm throughout the industry with the price of fuel expected to rise to 36% of operating costs, up from 13% in 2002, according to the International Air Transport Association. North American carriers are expected to post losses of US$5.0 billion in 2008 making them the hardest hit by this industry crisis.

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