On April 1, Air Jamaica will eliminate its thrice-weekly service from New York's Kennedy Airport to St. Lucia via Barbados as part of a corporate restructuring program.

The carrier launched the service only 14 months ago. In addition, Air Jamaica will eliminate its three weekly nonstops between Jamaica and St. Lucia.

But Air Jamaica had no plans to cut additional routes "at this time," according to Paul Pennicook, the airline's senior vice president of marketing and sales.

In fact, the carrier will add seats to Barbados, offer four weekly nonstops to Grenada and increase its daily flights from New York to Montego Bay and Kingston.

Pennicook said the decision to cut St. Lucia was part of a mandate from headquarters to become "a leaner, more viable national carrier."

The routes were not viable, Pennicook said, who explained that on the route from Jamaica, "St. Lucia is an intermediate stop en route to Barbados and back to New York."

The St. Lucia route had experienced a drop in market share as new nonstop services on other carriers from U.S. gateways had increased.

St. Lucia currently is served by American from New York Kennedy and Miami; American Eagle from San Juan; Delta from Atlanta; and US Airways from Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C.

Although Air Jamaica costs the Jamaican government approximately $100 million a year in losses, "we lost less in 2007 than in 2006," Pennicook said.

"The government is intent on reducing these losses and also would like to remove the $30 million a year subsidy, which is still in place." 

In 2007 the carrier was forced to sell its London Heathrow slots to Virgin Atlantic after sustaining annual losses of more than $27 million on its transatlantic route.

Several interested parties have expressed interest in partnering with the government in the ownership of Air Jamaica, according to Pennicook.

"The keen interest on the part of several potential international partners is encouraging. The government wants to keep the airline, but it needs partners to do so to remain viable and strong," said Pennicook.

He added that he remained "optimistic regarding the future of Air Jamaica."

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

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