Air Turks & Caicos has undergone a lot of changes during the recent months under Trevor Sadler, who was appointed as CEO in September 2013. Aside of relaunching as interCaribbean Airways the regional carrier for instance began to transform from point-to-point into a hub airline. Thomas Jaeger had the opportunity to talk with Trevor Sadler at APG WorldConnect in Monaco about the new strategy and the future for the Providenciales-based airline.
You recently rebranded yourselves from Air Turks & Caicos to interCaribbean Airways. What was the mitigating factor behind the move?
Well, with our old name, business appeal was ‘limited’ to the Turks & Caicos Islands. Our new name – interCaribbean – isn’t limited to one country and will therefore allow us to appeal to everyone from across the Caribbean.
With our new brand name, we‘re able to sell more easily flights between other points within the Caribbean islands – domestic Jamaican flights for instance.
How would you describe an average costumer on your flights?
On our traditional point-to-point routes from Providenciales to Haiti, 90% of passengers are Haitian labourers on their way home and/or relatives visiting them in the Turks & Caicos Islands. The rest are either from NGOs or tourists. Labourer traffic is also essential for other routes as it makes up a good percentage of the travellers as well on flights to Dominica and Jamaica.
In contrast, shoppers and US Visa applicants make up a percentage of our flights to the Bahamas. As the United States does not have a diplomatic presence in the Turks & Caicos Islands, residents therefore have to travel to the Bahamas to apply for their visas.
In order to improve the overall efficiency of our Providenciales hub, we recently revised our timetables by offering better connecting flights which leave at more attractive hours. The move has paid off as even on some routes where we’re able to offer a convenient connection in only one direction, the flight, we have found, still sells well.
Our little hub also allows us to offer a wide range of connections to the neighbouring region. In some instances, we’ve been able to connect islands where no routes had previously existed. As much as I know, 25% of a flight involve transit passengers, a vast majority of whom travel primarily for US visa reasons.
It is also worth mentioning that a market segment that is currently growing quite rapidly is the European transit tourist niche i.e. tourists arriving from Europe use us to visit the islands of the Caribbean.
In all, our new brand image has helped us to improve our regional market share as it appeals to a greater audience.
When and how do your passengers book their flight tickets?
The majority of our passengers tend to book a couple of days ahead of departure. In most cases, 30 days in advance would be an enormous fete of forward planning for many!
It can be quite nerve-wracking to see how few bookings there are a couple of weeks before a flight leaves only for it to suddenly fill up in the last 7 days or so.
On domestic flights, a lot of customers simply show up at the airport and expect there to be a flight and a free seat available. If we have a free seat then that’s fine but if not, and the plane is already fully-booked, the traveller is upset. Therefore we try to get our customers to book well in advance by giving them incentives to do so.
Who are your competitors?
On our international routes, there is only one where we face direct competition – Providenciales to the Bahamas. On the others, we are a sole operator. You’d assume that having a monopoly would mean charging excessive “monopolist” fares. But actually our fares have decreased over the last few years, resulting in higher load factors.
On our recently launched connecting flights, we of course face some competition. Our biggest competitor is Copa Airlines whose excellent flight connections are very attractive despite Panama City being so far away.
On domestic flights within the Turks & Caicos Islands, we have a good market share where our competition is Caicos Express. Even though they recently acquired a Beech 1900C which offers 6 more seats than the aircraft we use on the routes, we limit expansion for capacity demand on domestic inter-island flights. So we choose to compete by offering a good product that meets the customers’ needs.
On flights to South Caicos, there is also a ferry service but due to its slowness and sparse weekly rotations, it doesn’t pose much of a threat. While at present there aren’t that many tourists travelling to South Caicos, that should change quite soon due to new hotels being built there. As a consequence, domestic passenger numbers will rise in the future. The Turks & Caicos Islands are a popular tourist destination and international passengers can fly in directly via Providenciales.
Do you have any plans to co-operate with major international carriers by offering them a Caribbean feeder service?
We’re currently in talks with three major carriers concerning possible interline agreements. As they involve a lot of work, we are in the implementation stage to go live in early 2015.
Have you ever had or still have any plans to offer direct flights to the United States?
We’re currently considering flights to the United States using smaller aircraft. I think there would be enough demand on some routes to destinations that are not yet served, especially if we can feed the flight with our inter-Caribbean network.
In addition to requiring aircraft larger than our Embraer 120 (we’re looking at 50- to 100-seater regional jets right now) we will also need to enhance our schedule to offer a greater number of convenient connections.
On flights within the Turks & Caicos Islands you operate a Beech 99, an aircraft that has rarely been used for scheduled services. What makes it the perfect fit for you?
We introduced the Beech 99 because it offered a capacity ideally suited to our domestic needs. But as passenger numbers have increased, and will continue to do so in the future, we are studying larger aircraft with around 19 seats – the Beechcraft 1900D in particular. I therefore expect the Beech 99 to be retired at some point in the near future.
With its stand-up cabin and good performance we also have the option of dispatching the Beechcraft 1900D on international routes where it would replace the Embraer 120 on flights with low demand.
Your fleet consists of several Embraer 120s (Brasilia’s), many of which are currently in storage. Why is this so?
We have a fleet of Embraer 120s of which four are currently in active service. At present, two other Brasilia’s are undergoing a C check, following which they will get a new paint job and interior before being returned to service this month (December).
The other six aircraft can be used as and when demand dictates and will feature in our future fleet growth plans. Next year for example, we plan to base aircraft out of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
What does the future hold for interCaribbean Airways?
In the long run, I think we will evolve into a completely different airline in terms of our positioning within the Caribbean. We will operate a major network covering many destinations. We’ve already started down this path and will continue along it…
Thank you for the interview!