ST. JOHNS, Antigua -- The need for more carriers and more airline seats in the Caribbean -- a region described as ripe for competition by Edward Gilkes, CEO of Caribbean Star -- is a factor that has contributed to the rapid growth of his carrier, he said.

Our rate of growth since our formation in 2000 has been phenomenal, beginning with 30% in the first year, and another 25% on top of that each succeeding year since, Gilkes said. We anticipate another 15% to 20% growth this year.

Competition is healthy, according to Gilkes. It forces us to stay on our toes, to scrutinize our competition and to pay close attention to whats happening in our own backyard.

In Caribbean Stars backyard are several carriers, including BWIA, LIAT, Air Jamaica and American Eagle. 

Gilkes, who ruled out a possible merger of BWIA and LIAT, despite industry talk in some circles that certain Caribbean countries want the merger to take place, said that the presence of these carriers helps all of us keep fares in line and stay focused on customer service.

Air Jamaica is less of a competitive threat to Caribbean Star because we dont serve Jamaica and we dont fly to the U.S.

Caribbean Stars sister airline, Caribbean Sun, which was formed in 2002, competes with American Eagle from San Juan to Tortola, St. Maarten and St. Vincent.

Our names are similar, but we are separate airlines under the same owner, Gilkes said.

Caribbean Star is headquartered in Antigua; Caribbean Sun, based in Fort Lauderdale, runs operations from San Juan.

Gilkes joined Caribbean Star last year, following a 35-year career in the industry, most recently with LIAT.

Star has more than 100 flights a day in the English-speaking Caribbean, as far north as Tortola and as far south as Guyana, Gilkes said.

Its longest flight is its two-hour Barbados-to-Guyana service; its most successful routes are Barbados to St. Lucia, five flights daily, and Barbados to St. Vincent, also five flights a day.

Our fastest-growing route is between Barbados and Port of Spain, Trinidad, where we have four flights daily, Gilkes said.

Additional routes could be in the works, although Gilkes declined to say where. He did rule out plans to expand to the U.S. mainland or to merge with Caribbean Sun.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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