In preparation for the sale, the government installed Bruce Nobles, the same person who oversaw restructuring at Hawaiian Airlines, as president and CEO. Nobles realized, pretty quickly, that Air Jamaica's fleet utilization was poor and vowed "to fly the airplanes as much as you can to generate revenue." He also dropped routes to Atlanta and Miami, and instead used the aircraft on routes where they made money. Nobles also noted that one of Air Jamaica's main problems was that it lacked capital; "Air Jamaica spends too much money because it does not have any," he said, and has since secured more cash for the carrier.
Evidently, he's done a pretty good job of fixing up the airline; those who thought that there would be a mid-summer snowstorm in Montego Bay before a profitable Air Jamaica might be surprised. Nobles says that the airline, which has never made a profit, could break even as soon as December and may actually become profitable in 2010. Especially given the current economic environment, that's quite an accomplishment. The fact that Spirit's owners, Indigo Partners and Oaktree Capital, are interested in buying Air Jamaica has to be a testimonial to the airline's improved financial condition.
Of course, if the sale turns out to be true, it does raise a few unanswered questions. Would Air Jamaica turn into an ultra-low-cost-carrier, along the lines of Spirit? Many in Jamaica would probably cringe at the thought of their national airline becoming another Spirit, which is known for its Ryanair-like disregard for passenger service (according to the Department of Transportation, Spirit had the most complaints in 2008, with 14.3 per 100,000 passengers; US Airways, with 2.0, came in second). Perhaps Spirit might run the carrier separately, keeping its existing (and newly-profitable) business philosophy and using it to feed Caribbean traffic into Spirit's US operations (and vice versa). But here, the 'feed' strategy might not be successful - for a start, the two airlines serve different airports in New York (Air Jamaica at JFK, Spirit at LaGuardia). And the discrepancy in the current levels of service offered by the airlines might be off-putting to some travelers, too.
photo by Matt Coleman - BNA-Photo on Flickr