Implementation of the a bi-lateral air services agreement signed by Jamaica and Brazil has been put on hold, pending, among other things, the divestment of the national carrier, Air Jamaica.
The agreement was inked in December 2007, by Transport and Works Minister, Michael Henry, and then Brazilian Ambassador to Jamaica, Cezar Augusto De Souza Lima. It signalled the culmination of negotiations on a draft, which was reached in 2006 and establishes the regulatory framework, which will, among other things, facilitate scheduled commercial passenger and cargo flights between the South American country and Jamaica.
However, while confirming that the agreement remains intact, Communications Consultant with the Ministry of Transport and Works, Reginald Allen, tells JIS News that little else has taken place since the signing, which, primarily, paves the way for further discussions involving representatives of Air Jamaica, or any other local carrier, and their Brazilian counterparts in mapping out the attendant logistics.
Air Jamaica’s Senior Director for Government and Community Affairs, William Rodgers, tells JIS News that the airline is yet to engage any Brazilian counterpart in dialogue on the matter. This, he points out, is against the background of Air Jamaica’s impending divestment, and to see how best the fortunes of the state-run entity, which has been operating at a loss for several years, can be reversed.
“We are (now) going through that divestment process, which, I am sure, once we know where we are going, then (further) discussions could be explored for the for the future expansion of the airline. So the door is open (for talks). Right now (however), we have been consolidating and dropping unprofitable routes. With the sort of losses that Air Jamaica has been incurring, we have been a bit reluctant to explore new routes. We need to know where we are going as a carrier before such discussions could take place,” the airline executive outlines.
Last year, Prime Minister, Bruce Golding announced a March 31 date for the proposed divestment, which is being led by Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, Senator Don Wehby.
In addition to the divestment, Mr. Rodgers, who was a member of the Air Policy Committee, which spearheaded the negotiated agreement, points to the need to undertake route and economic surveys to assess the viability of the service, in order to effect implementation of the provisions.
“So even though the agreement is in place, there are on the ground logistics that have to be undertaken to determine the feasibility of having that (direct) service in place. Also, (it) would centre around us having the right equipment to fly long distances into these areas, and (having) the sort of frequency that would be necessary to maintain a viable route. But with our current situation, and (with) what has transpired over the last couple of years, we have been reluctant to move forward with that (at this time),” he explains, adding that no service will commence until there is further dialogue among the stakeholders, which should not ruled out.
In addition to commercial passenger and cargo services, the agreement seeks to facilitate code sharing among the designated stakeholder airlines, and a chance for the exploration of Jamaica as an alternative gateway for connecting flights between North and South America. Furthermore, it seeks to encourage the promotion of fair play among all interests, while discouraging discrimination and abuse of dominant positions.
Mr. Allen stresses that establishment and implementation of such an agreement “takes time” as it is a “very technical matter”, but highlights the benefits of such a facility.
“The service would naturally open up opportunities for trade and tourism, etcetera, through access to direct flights, among other possibilities. So it opens up one economy to the other, in terms of what Brazil has to offer us, and certainly what we can offer, in terms of a gateway. As you know, we are well advanced in tourism, and Brazil, in terms of many industries,” he outlines.
Mr. Rodgers adds that, when implemented, the agreement will facilitate two weekly flights by Air Jamaica, or any other local carrier out of Kingston and Montego Bay, into Brazil, via Rio de Janeiro, the only designated port of entry into the South American country, under the facility at this time. Flights between the countries, he adds, would not necessarily be non-stop, but would be contingent on the feasibility of the studies which would be undertaken. “It’s a matter of looking at the routes and shaping your activities accordingly,” he reasons
The Air Jamaica executive points out, however, that should Air Jamaica or any other local carrier need to fly to another destination outside of Rio de Janeiro, then special permission would have to be granted through the local aviation authority, consequent on the requisite application.
Mr. Rodgers argues that while the agreement does not necessarily guarantee that the service will be established, having the regulatory framework, provided by the document, in place will ensure that no challenges arise if and when commercial operations commence. Such operations, he stresses, cannot be effected unless a bi-lateral air services agreement is in place.
One of the advantages of having the agreement in place at this time, he says, is that it facilitates special flights, such as charters into either country.
“If one country decides to fly an aircraft into the other’s territory (outside of the provisions of the framework), naturally, the proper filings would have to be made to the respective civil aviation authorities. But I don’t see that there will be any difficulty, in terms of the authority being given by either side, since the main agreement is in place. So it would pave the way for that (special flights) until such time when the formal provisions are effected,” he explains.
He also highlights the benefits of tapping into the Brazilian market, which the agreement will afford the island.
“We (Air Jamaica) are always looking for potential places to fly, and I’m sure that, tourism-wise, the interest in South America is there, and has good potential for Jamaica, especially with the expansion of the Spanish hotels here. So it is something that we will always be looking at as a possibility to expand,” Mr. Rodgers informs.