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Amber Aviation set to fly by January

Amber Aviation, a new subsidiary of the Amber Group, is set to take to the Jamaican skies by January with a fleet of six aircraft that will be utilised for air tours targeted at tourists.

But it’s still awaiting the final issue of its permit by the local aviation authority.

The five ultralight and one light-sport aircraft have already been secured in South Africa, where four Jamaicans are being trained to operate the aircraft that are due in Jamaica by year end.

Ultralight aircraft – sometimes referred to as microlight – are small, light-weight, one or two-seat fixed-wing single-engine planes. These aircraft are the easiest and cheapest way to get into the skies. light-sports are similar to ultralights but have a closed cockpit.

Amber Group CEO Dushyant Savadia says the launch of the aviation arm of his eight-year-old company was part childhood dream and part natural progression, given the need to diversify business lines at Amber and take advantage of existing opportunities in tourism.

“We’re finding that this type of aviation is becoming more and more popular, with tourists travelling great distances to experience the thrill of a 30-minute, open-cockpit flight,” Savadia told the Financial Gleaner.

The Amber Group has 10 subsidiaries, including the vehicle-tracking service, Amber Connect; Amber Innovations that provides analytic services; Amber Pay; and Amber Aviation, which has been operating on a low-key basis for the last three years as a pilot test of the business that had a soft launch last October.

“It’s taken us about three years to work with the authorities, addressing all regulations and in effect introducing ultralight and light-sport type aircraft to Jamaica for the first time,” Savadia says.

He would not say the full investment being made in the fleet, only that the five ultralights cost around US$50,000 to US$80,000 each.

Other checks made by the Financial Gleaner indicate that a light-sport craft costs around US$200,000 to US$300,000.

Savadia says the entry into tourism and aviation is being funded from internal resources.

The Amber service will operate out of the Negril Aerodrome, where Savadia says a hangar is being readied for a December launch of the tours.

“We’ve secured a hangar, which is still under processing, but there is every indication that it will be ready. We chose Negril because of the ready tourist traffic that we feel will gravitate towards this type of attraction,” he said.

Each air tour is expected to last about 45 minutes, from preflight checks to landing, and will cost about US$100 per flight, he said.

Head of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority, Nari Williams-Singh, said his agency has been working closely with Amber for some time, especially since the start of 2022, on conditions he needed to satisfy.

“We do have regulations that cover some of the operations. There are some other things that we are doing; however, we are certainly processing his application. There are some further changes that we will have to make to facilitate his operation,” Williams-Singh added, saying that while the service will open up a new dimension in the regulation of aviation for Jamaica, the agency is willing to facilitate it.

“It’s a new kind of operation to us, and while it is not new to the aviation space, we want to ensure that it operates safely; and we certainly see the impact that this can have on our aviation landscape, and the tourism product as well,” said the JCAA head.

Amber Aviation plans to grow the plane fleet in subsequent expansion phases. After launching the tour business, the company plans to enter the domestic air travel market and offer a jet-share programme, where corporate jets are leased on demand, but says the latter at this point is more of an aspirational goal.

“Alongside the ultralights, in the next phase we’re bringing the lightsport planes, and next we want to do aerobatic planes and even ex-military fighter jets; so that as a tourist, you can choose different types of planes and fly up,” said Savadia.

“The next phase of our growth will look at low-cost domestic flights that will connect, say, Kingston and Negril or Montego Bay by low-cost air travel,” he added.

He expects the air tours to find a ready market, saying there is a shortage of exciting and fun things for tourists to do outside of ‘sun, sea and sand’ and the adventure offerings of Chukka Caribbean Tours.

“Because Jamaica does not have this category of pilots, we sent four young men to South Africa at our cost to be trained in flying these aircraft. They’ve already flown solo, and have only about a month and a half more of training to get their licence,” Savadia said.

The four – Arnold Davis, Nathaniel McCleary, Alando Perry and Orlando Stephenson – are being tutored by pilot and international aviation instructor David Daniel.

Savadia says Daniel has also been hired by Amber Aviation as chief pilot and chief engineer.

The company intends to utilise some of the newly trained pilots as future trainers of Caribbean aviators as an added service.

“When the training is finished in September, all the planes will be put on a container by the first week of October for shipment to Jamaica, and we expect them to arrive by December,” Savadia says.

The planes presently carry the South African ‘ZU’ designation, which will be deregistered. Upon arrival in Jamaica, they will be re-registered in the local ‘6Y’ designation. They will also be covered by public passenger liability insurance from an American company, he said.

Savadia expect to have its JCAA permit in hand by the time the winter tourist season kicks off in mid-December.

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