While SOSA, Atlantic and Isleña Airlines have focused on daily scheduled flights to and from the Bay Islands, several charter companies have focused on the more affluent air traveler. Where time and efficiency are more important than money, the niche air transporters have boomed.
While Tegucigalpa and San Pedro have a wealthy class who own their own airplanes, the Bay Islands have tourists and a well-to-do middle class who needs the flexibility of charters to get them to and from Honduras’ big cities.
In fact the air charter companies are sometimes less expensive and no more than 50% more expensive that flying with airlines. The greatest difference between an airline and a charter company is that a charter company doesn’t have a schedule of departures, while an airline is obliged to stick to its schedule no matter how many passengers show up for a flight. All three local airlines in Honduras practice price-fixing with their tickets costing exactly the same and raising their prices exactly at the same time. Honduran Civil Aviation Association (HCAA) which should overlook these practices, according to Gill Garcia, owner of Roatan Air Services, gives the airlines a free pass. Passengers don’t put pressure on HCAA to hold the airlines to their promise of scheduled flights.
The practice has created a niche where several charter companies are beginning to operate fixed schedules. Alas de Honduras charter, owned by Osman Paz, flies from La Ceiba to Brus Laguna every Wednesday. RAS has a scheduled fight between Roatan and Copan on Thursdays. The Tablones Airport in Guatemala, 11 km from the Copan Archeological Park, is perfect for quick Roatan to Copan tourists and RAS is looking at converting its weekly services to bi-weekly.
Chartering a plane on several routes actually saves money and time. A $185 plane charter between Utila and Roatan, costs only $65 per person versus $95 spent for the same flight on Sosa or Atlantic. “Businessmen prefer to hire our plane so they don’t risk sitting for hours at an airport in La Ceiba,” says Garcia.
Around 40% of Garcia’s business consists of shuttling Utila and Guanaja resort passengers to and from their international flights in Roatan. On Utila Utopia, Colibri Hill and on Guanaja, End of The World Resorts all rely on RAS. The business of shuttling passengers between the islands has been so good that the charter company plans on adding three more aircraft to its existing two. The fleet runs on two six- and eight-passenger Air Commanders and three five-passenger Cessna airplanes.
One of the difficulties in basing a charter out of Roatan is the island’s airport facilities. “I should have a hangar, a place to do my maintenance,” says Garcia, “but I have no choice.” Garcia says that charter’s relationship with Interairports who manages Roatan and three other Honduran International airports is strained. “They don’t care about making a possibility of building your own hangar at the airport because they want to build the hangars themselves.” Also, fuel stealing and aircraft security are issues of concern for Garcia. “We are considering hiring our own guard at the airport,” says Garcia.
Another charter is Vuelos Expresos, a one-man operation by pilot Selin Ordonez Pinot, which operates out of La Ceiba with dozens of flights a year to Utila and which serves as the island’s medevac service. “This man [Pinot] has been a great service to the island and helped many people in times of emergency medical,” Dr. John McVay of Utila.
The medevac service from Roatan has typically relied on SOSA and Atlantic charters to San Pedro Sula, which can cost as much as $2,000. A private individual is stepping in to fill in the gap. Chris Gachet, a Swiss Helicopter pilot since 1988, now based in Roatan, has decided to launch an evacuation and charter helicopter venture. “There is a need for 60-70 medical evacuations a year, but [these] do not happen because of bad weather, night,” says Gachet. To finance his venture he plans to offer evacuation insurance at around $150, with hotel guests at $1.50 a night.
uncertain where the two Bell Jet Ranger helicopters and his two pilots will be based, Gachet is certain it will not be at the airport. He is concerned about reports of stealing fuel and the unwillingness of the airport authorities to lease him space for a hangar. While the company is waiting for a Honduran aviation pilot permit, he estimates to be ready for business in December. [/private]