Many of us may think that Jamaica’s entry into the commercial aviation industry began on Sunday, May 1, 1966, when Air Jamaica began its operations with three flights, one inward and two outward from the Palisadoes Airport, now the Norman Manley International Airport.
Not so at all. Jamaica’s commercial aviation history actually began in 1930, while Air Jamaica’s inaugural flights on Sunday, May 1, 1966 represented the start of the country’s national airline.
According to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online, commercial aviation refers to the use of planes for carrying goods or people, rather than for military purposes. The following is a brief timeline of the key milestones in the development of Jamaica’s commercial aviation service.
Jamaica’s Commercial Aviation History Timeline
Wednesday, December 3, 1930: A Pan American Consolidated Commodore twin engine flying boat landed in Kingston Harbour from Miami bringing mail, not passengers, to the island.
Saturday, November 21, 1931: The famous US aviator, Col. Charles Lindbergh, who was well-known at the time for completing a solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1927, brought the inaugural Pan American Sikorsky S-40 Clipper (an American amphibious flying boat ) to Jamaica on the Miami-Kingston-Cristóbal (Panama) route, much “to the delight of the many spectators who lined Kingston Harbour in welcome” (Tortello 2006a). Thus began air service from Kingston to Miami via Pan American Airways.
Saturday, February 6, 1932: Caribbean Airways Limited, the first locally-owned aviation company in the former British West Indian colonies, formally opened its new sea plane base at Bumper Hall, Kingston. By the mid-1930s, however, Caribbean Airways Limited folded due to financial difficulties, leaving the way clear for Pan American to take over with its amphibian planes landing in Kingston Harbour.
1940/41: The new Palisadoes Airport (now the Norman Manley International Airport) was built, and was able to accommodate both land and sea planes.
1944: Pan American discontinues its amphibious flying boat service when it “started a land-plane service into the Palisadoes” Airport (Tortello 2006a).
Sunday, May 1, 1966: the former national airline, Air Jamaica, began its operations with three flights, one inward and two outward, from the Palisadoes Airport, now the Norman Manley International Airport. On that day the first inward flight for the national airline came from New York while the airline’s first two outward flights were to Miami and New York respectively. A ceremony was held at the Airport to mark this special occasion.
According to Rebecca Tortello (2006b): “The national airline was started in 1966 under a tripartite agreement between the Jamaican government, the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and British West Indian Airways (BWIA).”
April 1, 1969: Air Jamaica (1968) Limited, formed between the Jamaican Government and Air Canada to operate the country’s national airline, began operating. This new entity replaced Air Jamaica Limited, which ended its operations on March 31, 1969.
1984: the Jamaican Government acquired Air Jamaica through a ‘buy back’ agreement.
October 1994: with ever mounting huge financial losses, the Government privatised Air Jamaica and the Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart-led Air Jamaica Acquisition Group (AJAG) took control of the company, taking ownership of 75 per cent of the company’s shares.
December 2004: AJAG signed over its 75 per cent ownership share in Air Jamaica back to the Government. The Government of Jamaica was once again fully in control of Air Jamaica.
2008: the Government declared it planned to divest Air Jamaica due to its increasing financial burden on the State. For instance, by the end of 2006, the airline had over J$36 billion (US$503 million at the time) more in liabilities than its assets were worth (Business Gleaner 2008).
May 2011: the Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines (CAL) acquired the national airline. Jamaica continues to own a piece of Air Jamaica by way of its 16 per cent stake in CAL (Jackson 2012) as part of the conditions for CAL taking over Air Jamaica’s lucrative routes.
Jamaica now no longer has a national airline; but Jamaicans are reminded of the golden years of Air Jamaica via the Air Jamaica airplane tail on display in the middle of the round-a-bout near the entrance to the Norman Manley International Airport on the Palisadoes Road.
February 14, 2013: privately-owned company, Fly Jamaica Airways, a partnership between Chief Executive Officer and Guyanese-born Captain Paul Ronald Reece, and Jamaican shareholders, including Chief Operating Officer, Captain Lloyd Tai (Fly-Jamaica.com), took its inaugural flight from the Norman Manley International Airport to the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The company was incorporated in Kingston on September 7, 2011.
Have any of you ever flown on Fly Jamaica? Do you think a national airline is in Jamaica’s future? I’d love to hear from you all so please do leave a comment below.
Until next time…
Jackson, Steven (2012). Air Jamaica Still Racking Up Losses. Jamaica Gleaner, Wednesday, May 9, 2012.
Senior, Olive (2003). Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew: Twin Guinep Publishers, Ltd.
The Daily Gleaner, Monday, November 23, 1931, pg. 1
The Daily Gleaner, Monday, February 8, 1932, pg. 8
The Sunday Gleaner, May 1, 1966
Tortello, Rebecca (2006a). History of Aviation in Jamaica Part I
Tortello, Rebecca (2006b). History of Aviation in Jamaica: Part II