By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
THIS evening will mark the inaugural Western Air flight from the Bahamas to Cuba, building what officials hope will be a “bridge” between the two countries to better facilitate trade and commerce.
The aircraft can seat 33 passengers and is expected to carry out one complete route, once a day, three times a week – courtesy of a partnership between Western Air and Blue Bahamas Crossing (BCB).
Captain Wolf Seyfret, Western Air’s director of operations, said a demand for such a route does exist based on statistics from other airlines and past services that Western Air has done.
“Our average load has been 22 passengers. We’ve had full flights, we’ve had flights with 19 passengers – but the average load has been 22 passengers. So yes, from that I can say there definitely is a demand there,” he said.
He explained that Western Air and BCB have “very diligently looked at the market” and decided the two carriers that presently provide the service are “not able to satisfy demand” – leaving room in the market for Western Air to step in.
“We can say from observing the current levels with Cubana and Bahamasair – there’s a lot of passengers being turned away because of the load factors on both airlines so definitely there is a demand for that service,” he said.
Mr Seyfret added that the privately-owned Western Air “can definitely be more flexible” than the two government-owned airlines.
Zena Burland, BCB chairwoman, explained that the creation of this new service is mainly geared towards encouraging business opportunities and trade relations between the Bahamas and Cuba.
She noted that transportation remains “one of the major barriers” that prevents the Bahamas’ movement for commerce, trade, and wider networking in the region.
“Blue Crossing Bahamas saw this barrier to regional trade and initiated a strategic solution,” she said.
“To this end, it focused on its nearest trading and regional neighbour, the Republic of Cuba. As many of you are aware, the Bahamas shares regional trade agreements with the Republic of Cuba.
“The goals then became to stimulate and encourage the flow of trade and commerce at all sectors of industry thereby creating opportunities for the citizen within the regional areas.
“The success of these activities of course needs to be secured and supported by offering a scheduled air service to the republic of Cuba from the Bahamas and therefore providing a bridge for Bahamians, Cubans, and those from the US with full complete approval to visit Cuba for vacation, education, health care and family visits. Likewise for them to also visit the Bahamas and other regional areas.”
BCB is already engaged with businesses that are interested in the new service, Ms Burland said, adding that BCB and Western Air “recognise the need” for reliable air transportation service between the Bahamas and other countries in the region.
“We are providing these air link services to provide the venue for large scale development and hotel development to reach its strategic goals by positioning itself to support these developments as we seek to create our strategic partnering programme to enhance and promote regional developments.”
The Western Air service leaves Nassau for Havana at 5:30pm on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It leaves Havana on its return trip to Nassau at 8:15 pm the same day.