Haitian domestic carrier Tortug’Air made an official application to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) this week for permission to launch its first flights to the US. It is seeking approval to launch a daily link between Cap Haïtien International Airport on Haiti’s north coast and Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International and tentatively agreed a partnership with South African carrier CemAir in November 2012 to circumnavigate current international safety restrictions.
Under existing US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules only airlines from countries with a Category One safety audit under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) International Aviation Assessment (IASA) program are permitted to serve the US. Haiti currently has a Category Two status meaning that to serve the US airlines from the country will need to wet-lease equipment from a Category One licenced operator.
In official documentation sent to the US DOT, Tortug’Air says it intends to use a 50-seat Bombardier CL-600 - a modified version of the CRJ200 regional jet - on the route using flight and support crew provided by the South African operator. The aircraft will be operated under a 12-month renewable lease from a date to be decided once the US DOT rules on the application.
The airline says approval of it proposed service will support the stated policy of the government of the USA to embrace and encourage economic development of Haiti, particularly in such “high visibility” enterprises such as international airlines following devastating earthquake suffered by Haiti in January 2010.
“Tortug’Air is owned by citizens and residents of Haiti, and employs hundreds of other citizens and residents of Haiti, thus expedited approval of this application should be deemed in the public interest of the USA,” it said in its application to the US DOT.
The airline was established as a business entity in January 2003 and launched flights on August 13, 2004 with domestic connections to five major cities in Haiti. Over the following eight years the carrier has expanded its activities and now provides international links to neighbouring countries including scheduled services to Nassau, Santo Domingo, Aruba and Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Tortug’Air will be the sole carrier on the route between Cap Haïtien and Fort Lauderdale although up until last year regular flights had been offered by Lynx Air International and between December 2009 and September 2012 by Florida Coastal Airlines using an eight-seat Cessna aircraft. American Airlines and Spirit Airlines also serve Haiti from Fort Lauderdale with flights to the capital Port-au-Prince.
In 2011 an estimated 157,000 O&D passengers flew between Fort Lauderdale and Haiti with approximately, a market that increases to around 481,000 travellers when you consider the wider demand from the whole of Florida.