The tiny Island of Curaçao (Dutch Antilles), located in the Southern Caribbean Sea, only 65 km from Venezuela, is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Together with nearby Aruba and Bonaire it is also referred to as the ABC Islands. In addition Sint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius are part of the Northern Dutch Windward Islands.
Curaçao is a popular Caribbean destination and has plenty to offer its visitors. There are numerous white sandy beaches, marine life locations, Hotels and Beach Resorts on the Island. It enjoys a year round temperature between 28-30 degrees C and a constant trade wind providing some cool air.
The historic capital Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features a wide variety of pastel-colored colonial buildings on both side of the city harbor: called Punda & Otrabanda. It also features a one-of-a-kind floating bridge named after a former Dutch Queen ‘Emma’. Curaçao has an open economy, with tourism, international trade, shipping services, oil refining and international financial services. Many cruise ships visit Curaçao as part of their Caribbean cruise.
From the early beginnings KLM Royal Dutch Airlines operated a regular flight from Amsterdam to Curaçao International Airport (IATA: CUR) often referred to as ′Hato′ airport. In December 1934 KLM triple-engine Fokker F-XVIII "Snip", registration PH-AIS was the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean for the Antillean island of Aruba. The arrival of the "Snip" marked the completion of KLM′s first transatlantic flight, but also served another purpose: to base aircraft in the Antilles. KLM′s West-Indian Operation launched its first service between the island of Curaçao and Aruba on 19 January 1935. By 1939, KLM′s West-Indian fleet consisted of six aircraft: two Fokker F-XVIIIs and four Lockheed Super Electra’s. After WW2, KLM used a couple of twin-engine Convair 340s on its local Caribbean route network. Much later KLM started operating the four-engine DC-6 and Lockheed Super Constellation to Curaçao.
During the 1950s the government of the Antilles indicated they wanted to establish its own airline, which was created in August 1964, when the ′Antilliaanse Luchtvaartmaatschappij′ (ALM) came into being with a fleet of three Convair 340s painted in full ALM colors. ALM quickly grew to be the dominant carrier at Curaçao, with flights to Aruba, Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Caracas, Georgetown, Santo Domingo, Jamaica, Haiti and Miami (this according to its October 1990 timetable). It flew many a/c types such as Fokker F-27 Mark 500, Short 330, DHC-6 Twin Otter, Douglas DC-9-15s and its flagship McDonnel Douglas DC-9-82 (MD-80s). ALM went into bankruptcy by early September 2001.
After the demise of ALM, Dutch Caribbean Air – DCA, which was initially founded in 1964 as AIR ABC, took over numerous assets of ALM and started operating some main routes in 2001 using the DC-9 and MD-80s jets. It managed to operate for a couple of year but ceased in 2004.
One year later in 2005 DAE - Dutch Antilles Express was founded and started operating high-frequency scheduled services in the Dutch Caribbean to United States, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Haiti, and Suriname, with a small fleet of ATR 42s, Fokker 100s and McDonnel Douglas MD-83s. The troubled DAE managed to operate until September 2013 before it ceased operations.
During that same period another Dutch Caribbean carrier started operating as ′Insel Air′ (formally Insel Air International B.V.) from Hato airport. Insel Air started operations on August 28, 2006 with one Embraer 110-P1 ′Bandeirante′ flying out of Curaçao to the neighboring island of Aruba. Soon afterwards, Insel Air began flights to the neighboring island of Bonaire and also to Las Piedras in Venezuela. Starting in January 2007, the airline began serving the Eastern and Northern Caribbean via Sint Maarten with a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 and with an additional McDonnell Douglas MD-82 in June 2008. Insel Air introduced two new types of aircraft from the Dutch manufacture namely the Fokker 50 ′turbo prop′ and Fokker 70 for both the Aruba and Curaçao hubs. Sadly Insel Air was impacted by the Venezuelan economic crises due to 100 million dollars cash-flow problem which was never paid. Coupled with bad management and safety issues Insel Air ceased operations in February 2019.
Jetair Caribbean is a private commercial airline based in Curaçao offering scheduled and charter flights to and from the Caribbean and South America. Founded as United Caribbean Airlines, a charter company in 2006 it applied for its commercial AOC in 2018. After working for many months with the Curaçao Civil Aviation Authorities (CCAA) its Air operating Certificate AOC was finally approved on the 19th November 2019.
The company was initially founded by Curaçao businessman Antonio Ribeiro (75). The idea to start an airline company was his boyhood dream. The name Jetair and the red sun logo was already envisioned during his early youth. His Jetair Caribbean business plan and marketing work was done extensive network and business relations within the Caribbean aviation. The choice for the Fokker 70 twin-jet was relative easy due to the availability of ex Insel Air personnel (crew/cabin and ground staff) with a lot of experience on the Dutch jet.
According to Samantha Cepeda (Commercial Operation Officer) Jetair Caribbean mission is to provide a safe customer-oriented air transportation product with a high level of customer service and on-time performance in an efficient and friendly manner. Currently Jetair staff count 33 personal working in ground staff, technical, cabin/cockpit crew and administrative departments. In addition Jetair Caribbean introduced the company′s website (Dec 2019) and made its presence on social media (Facebook/Instagram) generating local interest.
With Insel Air and DAE ceased operations within the last two years, Jetair Caribbean hopes to pick up the slack with its recently acquired Fokker 70 twin-jets.
The first 80-seater Fokker 70 (ex-KLM Cityhopper) was recently put through the maintenance sequence at the Fokker Services facility in Singapore and then flown to the United States to be repainted. The aircraft touched down in Curaçao on March 20 in its new livery, still carrying the KLM registration "PH-KZD", later to be reregistered as PJ-JAC. Its second Fokker 70 PJ-JAB was originally delivered to Vietnam Airlines as VN-A504 by the Dutch manufacture back in January 1997. PJ-JAB was the last Fokker 70 build before Fokker Aircraft had to close her doors. During 2015 she was purchased by TransNusa of Surabaya, Indonesia. Her career with TransNusa was relatively short and she ended up in storage during the last year of ownership by the Indonesian airlines. In early 2019, she was sold to Bridgelight Holdings. Re-activation and structural checks were carried out at Singapore Seletar airport and on April 30, 2019, the Fokker started her long journey to Eindhoven, the Netherlands, where interior modifications were carried out by ASL group. This aircraft has limited range as there are no center tanks installed; hence it made a very long ferry flight with multiple stops. During the ferry the aircraft made fuel stops at Chittagong, Ahmedabad, Muscat, Hurghadi, Izmir and Belgrade. As flight SXI1925, she arrived finally at Eindhoven. It was painted in Jetair Caribbean colors at Eindhoven airport (NL) before flying to its home-base at Hato airport Curaçao in April 2019.
Late January 2020 Jetair had received an operating permit from the Sint Maarten authorities to start a twice weekly flight from Curaçao. Both flights, Wednesday & Sunday depart Hato at 16:50 local time and arrive in Sint Maarten at 18:30. The return flight leaves Sint Maarten at 19:15 and arrives in Curaçao at 20:55. Ticket price is currently ANG 718 (USD 399) for a roundtrip. This amount includes all taxes, ANG 133 (USD 74) airport taxes and surcharges levied on both Curaçao and Sint Maarten.
The 1st commercial flight took take place on February 2nd and it was a great success. When the Fokker 70 arrived from its Inaugural flight it received a water salute at Curaçao International Airport. As of April 2nd, Jetair will introduce return flights to Santo Domingo, with flights on the Thursday and Sunday. Further down the year Jetair is planning (May 6th) a direct flight to Port Au prince Haiti on the Wednesday.
Passengers can book a ticket online via the website www.jetaircaribbean.com, or via our ticket office in Curaçao located on the Schout Bij Nacht Doormanweg 79 from Monday to Friday between 08:00 to 17:30, or in Sint Maarten at Juliana Airport Handlers located at the airport daily between 09:00-16:00.
We had planned our long-awaited Fokker 70 flight for the last day of our holiday in Curaçao. I decided to head for the airport early in order to allow sufficient time for the anticipated security procedures. We already purchased our one-way ticket with Jetair for flight 4J/522 to the island of Sint Maarten, departing Curaçao at 16:55 and arriving at Sint Maarten at 18:30 local time. We left tour hotel at 14:00 and flagged a taxi. After a short squabble in true Antillean style, we agreed on a bottom price of 10 dollars. Speeding along the F.D. Rooseveltweg, I noticed two enormous cruise ships docked on the pier alongside the harbor. After a short ride we safely arrived at Curaçao Hato International Airport.
We entered the airport building which has open air construction which allow the cool trade wind to pass through. Our reservation agent turned out to be a good-looking Latin lady dressed in the familiar dark-blue Swiss-port uniform. Check-in was done in a professional and efficient manner. After wishing us a pleasant flight, we thanked this Antillean beauty and joined the short queue waiting for the immigration inspectors and the security check. As we entered the well-arranged departure hall, a glorious view of the ramp awaited us. Several aircraft of Caribbean origin were parked together just in front of the lounge. Boarding started immediately and after showing our passports and boarding card for the last time that morning, we and about 20 other passengers were driven to the Jetair Fokker F70. Our assigned flight, 4J/522, was the Fokker F-70 registered PJ-JAC. Having been delivered new to KLM Cityhopper as PH-KZD back in 1997, the plane joined the Jetair fleet in July 2019. Inside the 23-year-old airliner, a new interior had been installed by Air Service Liège (ASL group) at Eindhoven Airport, Netherlands. The overall condition of the cabin looked brand new. Due to our early check-in, we arranged for window seats in the aft of the jet next to the Rolls-Royce Tay 620-15 engines. Outside the aircraft, the ground crew was busy with some last minute loading. Through the still open cockpit door we could see the crew preparing for engine start up.
Our captain proved to be Chief Pilot Jeroen van Schuppen. A veteran, who had learned to fly at an early age. He made career with airlines like; ALM, Dutch Caribbean Airlines, Dutch Antillean Express and Insel Air before becoming the chief pilot for Jetair. Jeroen flew among other; Dash-8, DHC-6 Twin Otter, ATR, Fokker F100, Embraer-110, Fokker F50 and of course the Fokker F-70. His total flying hours are 8.500 of which 2.500 on the Fokker F70 and F100. First Officer was Marnix Huitema who also worked for Insel Air. Marnix amassed a grand total of 1.900 flying hours.
With all ramp equipment moved away and doors closed, the aircraft was cleared by the ground crew for engine start. Slowly, the engines started to suck massive quantities of air through their intakes in order to maintain the necessary thrust to get the Fokker moving. After the engines were whistling away a Jetair ground engineer walking around the Fokker ready to report any technical snag to the cockpit. With a resolute "thumbs up" signal, the engineer indicated that everything was OK and that the Fokker was ready to roll. Simultaneously, and with a sudden roar, the two turbofan engines increased power for forward momentum and the F70 rolled onto the taxiway. As we taxied, the safety briefing was given by cabin crew member Michael de Braz. Previously, Michael worked for Insel Air, Avianca and Dutch Caribbean. During 2019 Michael was employed by Jetair. The purser on the flight was Bilfried Paula. Bilfried worked for more than 10 years for Insel Air on aircraft types like; MD83, Fokker F70 and F50. On March 01, 2019 he started to work for Jetair.
During the short taxi, we passed the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard hangar in which both Dash-8-100, painted in yellow/white livery of the Coast Guard, were receiving maintenance. We finally reached the holding point for runway 11 and ahead lay 11,200 feet of concrete. After a lengthy wait, we were cleared for takeoff and the two reliable Rolls-Royce Tay ‘turbofans’ were pushed to maximum thrust. The nose bobbed up as the brakes were released and the jet responded to the demands of the engines. In quarter of a minute, 2000 feet had vanished and the Fokker soon roared into the air. Seconds later, we felt the gear retracting. With a slow left turn, our aerodynamically clean Fokker crossed the nearby shoreline. We were rewarded with a magnificent view of the beautiful island.
In its initial climb to 22,000 feet via Airway UA516, our jet quickly proceeded north-eastbound for reporting point Silva. The passengers in the cabin began to mill around and socialize. The turbofan engines were reasonably quiet and could barely be heard in the forward cabin above the rush of the almost 600 mph airstream. Michael and Bilfried did their best supplying everybody with coffee, a coke and potato crisps.
During the flight I had an animated conversation with the accompanying Jetair maintenance engineer, Vernon Blanco. He studied aviation engineering in Tilburg (Holland). Afterwards he returned to Curaçao, to work for Dutch Antilleans Express (DAE) and gained experience with the ATR and Fokker F-100 aircraft. After his time with DAE he moved to Insel Air and worked on the MD83, Embraer-110, Fokker F70 and F50. Later he joined Jetair. He is very positive about the companies F70 operation. Jetair has sufficient AOG parts in ownership and remaining parts are available via Fokker’s Curaçao office. Next December the first C-check of one of the F70’s is planned. The location of the C-check is not yet known. With Sint Maarten in sight, the jet descended into a gray layer of wispy cirrus clouds which caused the Fokker to slightly buffet. Droplets of condensation formed on the windows, briefly obscuring the view. As PJ-JAC approached the outer marker for Sint Maarten Airport, preparation was made for the final descent and we were able to hear the whine of the engines as the throttles were advanced to counteract the drag of the flaps. Shortly afterwards, the jet’s landing gear was lowered causing the noise level in the cabin to increase as the units disturbed the air. The approach to Runway 10 was breathtaking as the jet streaked low over Maho Beach and a smooth text-book landing was made. The flight was most impressive, which is a credit to Jetair’s recent operations. Gingerly a ramp agent guided 4J/522 onto its assigned hardstand position and so ended another "routine" Jetair Fokker F70 flight.
Epilogue: Samantha Cepeda (Commercial Operations Officer) for Jetair informed me; that Jetair will start a twice weekly sked to Santa Domingo on April 02, and the airline will start flights to Haiti during March.
Credit: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, KLM archives, Samantha Cepeda (Commercial Operations Officer) & Jetair Caribbean.