By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
WESTERN Air plans to launch its Cuba service this week, an airline executive telling Tribune Business it was also watching the Jamaica market “very closely” to assess the feasibility of re-entering it. Captain Wolf Seyfret, Western Air’s director of operations, told Tribune Business that having recently received approval from the Cuban government, the carrier was launching its Cuba service with three flights a week starting tomorrow.
“The service had originally started as a charter service. It’s supposed to be launched officially as of Tuesday, September 10, with three frequencies a week - Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays - departing Nassau at 5.30 pm and departing Havana at 8pm. The service is operated with 33-seat SAB340 aircraft,” said Captain Seyfret. “We have been watching the market for a number of years now. Both Cubana, which is Havanatur, and Bahamasair usually have to leave people behind on their services.
“We have had that in our strategic planning for at least a year. We had gotten approval from the Bahamas Government last year to operate the service, but it took a while to get the approval from the Cuban government, which we just got - I think a month-and-a-half ago. We expect strong loads on that route.” Captain Seyfret said Western Air was still assessing the feasibility of re-entry into the Jamaican market.
“We’ve obviously looked at relaunching our service into Jamaica, which we had done for a number of years. We are watching that market very closely since there are some new entrants into that market,” he said. Captain Seyfret added that the airline had no plans for expansion into Florida due to low yields, given that all routes were being adequately covered by larger carries such as JetBlue.
“The yield on the Florida market is very low due to the very high fees associated with operating out of Nassau airport,” he said. “That has been a longstanding complaint by international carriers that come into Nassau.
“It’s something we don’t want to necessarily go into unless there is a real big demand. At this time we don’t see the demand. The traffic is being adequately covered by American Airlines, JetBlue and all the major players.” Captain Seyfret said Western Air’s $4 million maintenance facility in Freeport was set to open in early 2014. “We’re doing some final interior decorating,” he added. “We’re hoping to be ready to open that up, at least the maintenance side, the early part of next year.
“It’s our second hub in the Bahamas and it’s going to be a big plus in terms of efficiency and saving money. Having to relocate aircraft right now to San Andros which is our maintenance base at this time, comes at a significant cost. Once the facility in Freeport opens up it’s going to boost the efficiency quite significantly.” As for Western Air’s tperformance on domestic routes, Captain Seyfret said: “We’re getting into the slow season now. September is traditionally the slowest month in the airline industry. We are seeing some low load factors at this time.
“However, we are encouraged with the loads on the Freeport route, which are still steady. The other routes have dropped off, which can be expected with Back to School. We expect by late November, early December we will have a strong Christmas and the traffic will pick up again. That’s one of the reasons we have now diversified into the international market, to obviously give us a balance in the drop in domestic traffic right now.”
Currently, Western Air offers several daily services between Nassau, Andros, Grand Bahama, Bimini, Marsh Harbour and Exuma.