|Surinam Airways must ‘think big’, says aviation expert|
|Published on January 23, 2017 by Caribbean News Now by Ray Chickrie||Email To Friend Print Version|
By Ray Chickrie
PARAMARIBO, Suriname — In his assessment of Surinam Airways (SLM) (3 x B737-300’s and 1 x A340-300), aviation expert Tomas Chlumecky has called on the airline to “get out of the thinking small syndrome, and to take bold measures” to grow in the region because there is great potential for the national airline of Suriname. However, SLM needs to come up with a strategic vision to achieve profitability and growth.
He especially called for the modernization of SLM’s fleet, product improvement, and expansion of SLM’s Guyana hub, which can be the vehicle for bringing tourists to the Guianas.
Chlumecky, a Canadian and Czech (EU) citizen, with 34 years of aviation experience, last August was in Suriname and met with officials from the government and SLM. He was previously in Suriname in the 1980s and is very familiar with SLM and the country. Over the years, he worked with 45 airlines in 30 countries as an analyst, adviser, aircraft salesman and aviation executive.
Lack of Vision, Growth and Way Forward
“They all want to see growth, and that can come from within the Caribbean region. You can’t sell SLM with only four aircraft, think big and act big,” he added.
There is room for growth, Chlumecky said. “Look today, you have Insel Air, but it has been now shut down, and there is Caribbean Airlines (CAL), but it is hurting. There is also PAWA Dominicana and Cayman Airways and that is really it for Caribbean based airlines catering to the Caribbean market.”
Chlumecky said that Suriname “totally lacks a vision to go develop tourism and SLM. SLM should be the driver of tourism, but its leadership has resigned to “giving up” and doing what is easy.”
On the other hand, Chlumecky said that “Suriname has a great tourism potential and SLM can be a major ‘Caribbean’ airline with many aircraft and many new jobs created in Suriname. This will take leadership, money, new strategy and people who can implement the strategy.”
Lack of Government Support, Corruption and Nepotism
For example, the country has no tourism ministry or a tourism board with its own budget. As well, tourism legislation has been delayed now for almost five years. Bilateral air agreements with key countries are stalled. COPA Airlines, which wants to commence service to Paramaribo, has run into a bureaucratic stall. Work ethic in the country is poor and the president of the republic himself has condemned it. Some ministries are performing poorly.
There is little or no promotion in North America. Most of it is done in the Netherlands, where many expats living there are familiar with Suriname. Tourism can put Suriname on the map, make money and create jobs but SLM and the government will have to believe in this and be bold and ambitious to make it a reality, Chlumecky said.
Like many airlines in developing countries and right here in the region, such as Caribbean Airlines, poor performance, mismanagement, nepotism, political interference and corruption have plagued SLM’s growth and profitability. But the airline does have a strategic growth-plan according CEO Robbi Lachmising in an interview, which includes fleet renewal, improvement of the “SLM brand” and improving connectivity by increasing regional frequencies.
The government has also signed a contract with an international company to complete the modernization of the Johan Pengel Airport (JAP) to realize the goal of making JAP an SLM hub.
Confidence, Expansion and Improvement of Product
SLM is operating a single Airbus 340 on the Paramaribo-Amsterdam route, and three aging Boeing 737-300s (126 seats) on regional routes. Chlumecky recommends three Airbus-320 for the regional routes (to replace the 3 x B737-300’s initially, which would double the regional capacity by 104% as the seating and utilization of the new aircraft would be roughly double of the old and tired B737 fleet today.
He is stunned that, after decades, SLM is still using four-engined aircraft, started with DC-8-63’s then B747-300 and now A340-300 (2nd aircraft) on the Mid-Atlantic route instead of the Boeing 787 or the Airbus 350. Many in the industry are questioning why SLM isn’t yet extended range operation with two-engined airplanes certified (ETOPS), but they dropped the ball on that, just could not get ETOPS in time, which has to be a Red Flag about how things are poorly organized, run and implemented at SLM.
According to Chlumecky, SLM is thinking of incorporating two Embraer-190 aircraft (100 seats) to replace the Boeing 737-300s. But in his assessment, this isn’t a good move. Why reduce the seat capacity when there is potential to grow, Chlumecky questioned.
However, according to Lachmising, SLM will increase frequency using smaller aircraft, and can still achieve growth. Only recently, SLM has upgraded its inflight entertainment system. The airline is now offering the latest Hollywood and Bollywood flicks. It already has award winning meal and beverage services.
The Guyana base is expanding to more routes. Passenger traffic increased 14% in 2016, and the trend will continue, especially that mega oil discoveries in that country may witness the economic transformation of Guyana.
These are some of the factors why SLM should enter a cooperation agreement with the government of Guyana. One in which Guyana is responsible for the commercial side of the operation such as deciding on routes, pricing, frequencies and SLM provides planes and crew. This is easy and cost effective to get an airline up and running quickly, Chlumecky asserted.
This is why he is of the opinion that SLM should add the Boeing 737-800 or Airbus 320 to its fleet to prepare for Toronto and New York City expansion. There are about 400,000 Guyanese in the New York City and Tri-state area and the route is very profitable. In fact, a Caribbean Airlines executive, Fazal Karim, said to the media two weeks ago that the “Guyana-NY route is one of our cash cows”.