“With expansion into Port-au-Prince, we plan to meet the demand for quality service to Haiti by offering competitive fares to the large Haitian diaspora in the United States,’’ said Scott Laurence, vice president of network planning for JetBlue Airways. “In turn, we look forward to helping to support the community on the island.”
Haitians have long sought increased competition to their homeland. The high price of airline tickets has long been a sore point with travelers, who note that sometimes it’s cheaper to fly into the neighboring Dominican Republic and drive or ride into Haiti rather than to travel directly.
Fouchard said Haiti’s diaspora offers a huge opportunity, not just for international carriers, but also local ones. The local market, he said, is about 250,00 customers annually. Fouchard said about 140,000 of those previously traveled with Caribintair, which shut down five years ago amid problems with the Haitian government. He was a shareholder in that company.
Hoping to recoup that market, he said, Kombit will offer regular flights within country, as well as between Haiti and the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. The Bahamas market, for instance, has gone from four operators to two, which only service Cap-Haïtien, and not Port-au-Prince, Fouchard said. That’s why Kombit, he said, has chosen that market to launch its inaugural flight into Port-au-Prince on Sunday, he said.
Still, Caribbean air travel offers no guarantees. Despite the demand and customer base, air carriers continue to struggle in the region. Last month, for instance, Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines, which began operations in 2007, announced it was cutting back on its flights to Jamaica. The move irked Jamaica, which retained a 16 percent stake in the air carrier after it sold its national airline, Air Jamaica, to Trinidad in 2011. Even regional carrier LIAT, which services the Eastern Caribbean market, continues to report losses despite government subsidies.
Fouchard insists that the Haitian market is different — and wide open.
“We are not going to just go and say this is an airplane and we can have 10 trips a day to a destination,” he said. “We are going to limit the trips from point to point. Basically Kombit is going to find local partners to make it work.”