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Caribbean Fusion

Starting July 2000, the major part of the French Antilles regional carriers are undergoing a very large and quite complex merging phase. All of them were purchased in a woleshale operation by the Dubreuil Group. The French businessman, end 1999, sold out to Air France his majority stake in Regional Airlines, the largest third-level airline on French mainland.
Air Guadeloupe (which was completing a previously planned operational integration with Air Martinique, Air Saint-Martin and Air Saint-Barthélemy), Caraïbes Air Transport (CAT) and Air Caraïbes are now engaged to form a new Air Caraïbes, specialized in scheduled passenger transport, and a largest CAT as a dedicated operator for freight and, most likely, passenger charter activity.
In this phase, the fleets of the two airlines will be formed by a somewhat miscellaneous array of aircraft types. The expansion programme of Air Caraïbes, based on new services to Santo Domingo, Cuba, Trinidad & Tobago, Brasil and French Guyana, is centered on the purchase of six Embraer regional Jets. The delivery of a first couple of ERJ-145s is scheduled beginning next year.
Accordingly, some of the well established local operators, with their busy and colorfully painted island-hoppers aircraft, are going to disappear from the skies of the Caribbean Sea, forever:
Air Guadeloupe, with its main hub at the airport of Point-a-Pitre-Le Raizet. Established in 1970 and equipped, before the merger, by a couple of ATR 72s, seven Dornier 228s and two Twin Otters; they were used on a network comprising around twenty destinations. A single Boeing B.737-200 was recently leased from Islandsflug-Icebird to fully exploit the lucrative Miami services, both from Point-a-Pitre and Fort-de-France via Port-au-Price (Haiti).
Air Martinique, already a full subsidiary of Air Guadeloupe, was active since 1981 from Fort-de-France - Le Lamentin airport. Its two ATR 42-500s , summer this year, were the first aircraft to sport the the new Air Caro/ooibes livery.
Some 250 kilometers far North of the proper French Antilles, inside the so-called Leeward Islands, the diminutive Saint-Barthélemy island and the northernmost part of nearby Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten, a gambling free port co-owned with Holland, form the quite remote elements of the French 'outre-mer' Guadeloupe department. Both islands were the operational seats of as many small airlines, members of the Groupe Air Guadeloupe.
Air Saint-Barthélemy (better known as Air Saint Barth during its short life), was formed just five years ago. Its small fleet formed by a couple of Twin Otters was busily engaged in island-hopping activity towards the closest islands, both the English-speaking ones and the three northern Nederland Antilles colonies of Sint Eustatius, Saba and Sint Maarten (Southern side).
Air Saint-Martin, set-up in 1991, was a large mono-type operator, with its eight Cessna 208B Grand Caravans covering a route-network stretching the surrounding Leeward islands.
Caraïbes Air Transport, based at Fort-de-France (Martinique), was established in 1998 by Jean-Paul Dubreuil. As a Caribbean foothold of the French entrepreneur, the airline positioned itself as the leading local freight/charter operator with a fleet formed, before the merger, by four Dornier 228s and two Cessna 208B Grand Caravans.
Air Caraïbes was the second-older airline in the area, having been established in 1987. Till 1999 it was flying out of Point-a-Pitre (Guadaloupe) and Fort-de-France (Martinique) with a very composite fleet composed by three Dornier 228s, three Cessna Caravans, two Beech Super King Air, a single Twin Otter and an Islander. It gained the unwilling privilege to leave its name as an herithage to the new-born airline resulting from the current merger.
No more than two other regional operators of any significant dimension remain unschated by this substantial rationalization of the air transport system in the French Antilles. Air Calypso of Guadaloupe, set-up in 1997 with its three Shorts 360s and Saint-Barth Commuter which manages a small network using three Islanders.
MG-Aviation, which uses a Partenavia P.68B out of Marie-Galante, South-East of Guadeloupe, and Transcaraïbes Air International, based in Saint-Barthélemy with and also flying a P.68B, complete the local market.
Taxi Caraibe Air (TC Air) is close to receive its first aircraft, a new Piper Seneca V. The new air-taxi operator will be based at Fort-de-France, alongside sister air-work company ACF Aviation.

In the pictures: Air Caraïbes ATR 42-500 F-OHQV landing at Sint Maarten/Juliana airport, parked at Point-a-Pitre/Le Raizet (Guadalupa) and a detail of the new corporate symbol on the fin of the aircraft prior take-off from Fort-de-France/Le Lamentin (Martinique) airport.

(Aeromedia, November 2000)