TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Caribbean Star/Caribbean Sun

A Caribbean Star Dash 8 (Photo: Dale Coleman [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html) or GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons)

With British West Indies Airways removing its island hopping service in the 1990s, new carriers started to pop up. One of these new carriers was the Antigua and Barbuda based Caribbean Star Airlines. The carrier started operations in the eastern portion of the Caribbean in June 2000 with the use of Bombardier Dash 8 turboprops.

The two carriers operated similar fleets with the Bombardier Dash 8s, and despite being operated individually, the airlines would allow for passengers to transfer carriers without rebooking. The main goal of creating Caribbean Sun was to increase the presence of Caribbean Star, but the new carrier took on a life of its own and was instead helping itself expand.

Despite the slow start, Caribbean Star began expanding in the mid-2000s. The airline added longer distance routes to Trinidad and Tobago and started to replace the fleet of older Bombardier Dash 8-100s with the newer Bombardier Dash 8-300s. The older Bombardier Dash 8-100s were transferred to Caribbean Sun to allow the San Juan carrier to expand operations and add service to Ft. Lauderdale.

While success came in the mid-2000s, the two individual carriers started to see the struggles of operating an all-Caribbean island hopping service. Expansion stalled, and routes like San Juan-Santo Domingo were dropped due to lack of year-round demand.

Caribbean Sun became the first of two partner carriers to falter. The airline announced that it would shut down operations on January 31, 2007 due to lack of demand in the San Juan market. Caribbean Sun was not helped by the lack of alliances and fierce competition from American Airlines, who operated an island hopping hub in San Juan.

The parent company also said that they did not need Caribbean Sun anymore since Caribbean Star had been upgraded by the FAA and could now fly to the US. With only one carrier left, the company chose to focus on expanding Caribbean Star. However, this action was short lived. A few months after the shutdown of Caribbean Sun, competitor LIAT offered to merge with Caribbean Star Airlines to create a larger regional island-hopping airline.

While the deal was met with promise, the governments that had invested in Caribbean Star were thrilled at the idea and voted to remove their stake in Caribbean Star to allow for LIAT to make their deal a complete takeover and move their investments over to LIAT.

The deal was made successful and LIAT became the surviving name in the deal. Caribbean Star’s five Bombardier Dash 8-300s were moved into LIAT’s fleet, but the merged carrier would return six others due to lack of need. The hub in Antigua and Barbuda was kept and LIAT adjusted their new larger route map. With Caribbean Star gone, the original investors in the Caribbean Star brand attempted to restart Caribbean Sun to continue operations. However, high start-up costs proved to be difficult, and instead, the carrier was sold to a Miami investor.

Most of the Bombardier Dash 8-300s have moved on to new homes after their stint at LIAT. The Caribbean Star name disappeared completely during the merger with LIAT, with the post-merger “Star of the Caribbean” slogan being dropped, instead favoring the pre-merger slogan “THE Caribbean Airline.”

The Miami investor who bought Caribbean Sun Airlines would restart the carrier in 2010 under the name of World Atlantic Airways. World Atlantic Airways now operates a fleet of six McDonnell-Douglas MD-80s for charter use.

Ian McMurtry

Ian McMurtry

Ian has been an avgeek since 2004 when he started spotting US Airways Express planes at Johnstown Airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Wichita and enjoys spotting planes in Kansas City and Wichita as well as those flying at high altitudes over his home. He is a pilot with more than 40 hours of experience behind a Cessna 172, Diamond DA-20, and Piper PA-28. He flies Southwest Airlines on most of his domestic flights and Icelandair when flying to Europe. Ian’s route map spans from Iceland and Alaska in the north to St. Maarten in the south. He is a student at Wichita State University, where he will study aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Ian McMurtry
  • gorblinit

    Sorry, guy, you seem to have this back-asswards.

    Caribbean Star was not started in Antigua because BWIA stopped island-hopping, that Trinidadian national airline stopped island-hopping as a regional transport DECADES before.

    it was started as a direct challenge to the existing LIAT monopoly, and the purpose from the start was to shut LIAT down and thereby open another monopoly in private hands. Of course, those things ALWAYS raise prices to feed their investors and, instead of seeing LIAT collapse, Caribbean Star had a fight on its hands.

    Caribbean Star was also started by a now-convicted financial criminal and jovial Ponzi Schemer, R. Allen Stanford, who was feeling some regulatory heat in his “bank” in Montserrat and so moved to Antigua and bought an existing private bank there.

    By the way, Stanford was extradited and is still in jail in the USA serving time for his extravagances, and many people in the Caribbean remember him for their emptied bank accounts.

    Stanford threw (other people’s) money around like water, attracted quite a few employees and pilots away from LIAT, and started operating flights a few minutes before LIAT – on the same routes, but at lower fares. But the Caribbean people did the same to Stanford as they had done to several other challengers – they voted with their backsides and stayed loyal to LIAT.

    THAT is why Caribbean Star failed.

    At one point Stanford was losing so much money that he called a meeting of the pilots (who were trying to unionise), had $750,000 – in CASH – dumped on the ground by security personnel, and told them that was how much the airline was losing EVERY DAY. He also fired all of the pilots who dared to name themselves as part of the union effort.

    Caribbean Sun came much later, and was almost an afterthought that went just about nowhere. Stanford did not need to create a new airline so that “passengers could transfer carriers without rebooking “… there are at least two existing airline-level agreements for exactly that – it’s called interlining and code-sharing.

    Things got so bad at Caribbean Star that maintenance suffered. Instead of repairing or replacing avionics that had failed, the technicians simply removed the broken instruments and the pilots had to fly on without it. And when LIAT finally took over the Caribbean Star hangar, it was so rusted and badly maintained it was useless.

    Not a problem of employees… if there is no money for instruments or maintenance then there is no money and maintenance does not get done.

    As for the “merger” between LIAT and Caribbean Star, at first LIAT refused to have anything to do with Caribbean Star, but then absorbed the aircraft and assets for a nominal sum – we’re talking perhaps a dollar – mainly so they could add the aircraft to their fleet, but rejected most, if not all, of the employees and pilots.

    So Caribbean Star was a mercenary joke that was going to fall flat from the start. Not that LIAT or its shareholder governments are any better, but where Stanford’s fortune was limited by the investors he could con, the governments have the bottomless pockets of the taxpayers of several countries.

    I’m afraid you have a very rosy picture of Caribbean Star’s entire existence… the reality was much, much darker.