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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Air Jamaica

Jamaica has always been a popular destination in the Caribbean. However, the country has primarily relied on the sea to bring people to the island. In the 1960s, as aviation was becoming more popular the government of Jamaica faced a decision. They could either invest in British West Indian Airlines, based in Trinidad and Tobago, or start their own national airline. The government decided on the latter and Air Jamaica was born.

The airline was founded in August 27, 1963 and was owned 51% by the government of Jamaica, 33% by BOAC, and 16% by BWIA. The company used former BWIA employees in Jamaica and used leased aircraft from BOAC and BWIA. This arrangement continued until 1968, when the Jamaicans prefered to have a more independent operation. The government established the second incarnation of Air Jamaica in 1968. This time the government owned 60% of the airline with Air Canada owning the remaining 40%. Air Canada also provided aircraft, pilots, maintenance, and logistical help to the airline.

The new Air Jamaica began operations on April 1, 1969 connecting Kingston and Montego Bay to New York and Miami. The airline began with one DC-8 and three DC-9s. During the 1970s the airline began expanding rapidly adding destinations such as Toronto and Montreal in Canada, San Juan in Puerto Rico, and Philadelphia in the United States. Additionally long haul routes to Europe were added in 1974. For this period the airline relied on the four aircraft until the the late 1970s when the Boeing 727 was added to the fleet. At the same time the Jamaican government bought out Air Canada’s share in the airline allowing them to take full control.

In the 1980s, growth for the airline slowed as only two new destinations were added, Baltimore and Atlanta in the United States. With only about a decade of service the government of Jamaica was already looking for an airline to merge with. Also British Airways, the successor to BOAC was offered a 25% share in the airline. However, merger plans fell through and the airline remained state owned.

The 1990s saw the greatest expansion for the airline. Routes were added nearby to destinations such as Nassau, Ft. Lauderdale, and Santo Domingo. Long haul routes were also added to London, Frankfurt, and Manchester, England. In order to accommodate these routes Air Jamaica began purchasing Airbus aircraft such as the Airbus A340. In 1994, the Jamaican government privatised a majority of the airline with only 25% of the company being retained. The airline also began feeder service, and added modern features such as a frequent flyer program.

Private ownership lasted until 2004, when the airline facing massive losses, was reacquired by the Jamaican government. Losses continued for the airline after the state reaquired ownership. In 2007 the Jamaican government once again looked to find a private buyer for the loss making airline. By 2010 the airline had been in operation for 42 years and had made losses in 40 of those years. In order to alleviate the financial burden of the airline, the Jamaican government approached the Trinidadian government about a merger with Trinidadian carrier Caribbean Airlines.

On May 1st 2010, Caribbean Airlines acquired Air Jamaica’s routes and fleet. The new Caribbean Airlines has bases in Port of Spain, Kingston, and Montego Bay. Between 2010 and 2015, Air Jamaica aircraft had a sticker under the Caribbean Airlines logo to mark the former airlines fleet. In 2015, the Air Jamaica stickers left the fleet. Although the airline ceased to exist as a separate entity in 2010, after 42 years of service, the named managed to remain for another 5 years before fading into the history books.  

Daniel Morley
Daniel Morley
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