BOSCOBEL, St Mary — The last time that Thalia Pereze boarded a flight was at age five when she migrated from Cuba to settle in Miami, Florida.
On Wednesday Pereze, now 21 years old, was able to relive that experience as a passenger on Quality Corporate Aircraft Services (QCAS) Aero’s inaugural flight to Ian Fleming International Airport (IFIA) in Boscobel, St Mary.
The trip will forever be etched in her memory as she was excited about visiting Jamaica, and what she had seen of the island on the day was exactly what she had anticipated.
“I’m enjoying Jamaica. It is really nice, and I was so excited to come here because I haven’t been on a flight since I was really little. I got to see the water and the island and it was so beautiful from up there,” Pereze said, recounting moments before the Embraer 145 executive-type 30-seat jet landed.
Miami-based QCAS Aero says it will operate the first-class charter service into IFIA from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, each Thursday with plans to move to scheduled flights this December.
The new service comes just under a week after InterCaribbean Airways inaugurated scheduled flights from the Turks and Caicos Islands to Ian Fleming International, named after the famous author of the fictional James Bond spy thrillers that has won worldwide acclaim.
Previously known as Boscobel Aerodrome, situated in the town of Oracabessa, the airport, which is 15 kilometres from the north coast resort town of Ocho Rios, will get much more busy in November when American Airlines begins twice-weekly flights from Miami.
Constant traffic at the airport is the realisation of a dream by late tourism mogul Gordon “Butch” Stewart and Robert Montague, the Member of Parliament for St Mary Western, the constituency in which the airport is located.
Stewart, the founder of the world-renowned Sandals Resorts and the Jamaica Observer, had, in 2013, argued strenuously that the airport was one of the “low-hanging fruits” that Jamaica could pick with not a great deal of effort, and little money, in order to stem “the never-ending spiral of borrowing to pay off its debt, while not earning enough to invest in development”.
At the time he suggested that the first investment project that the Jamaican Government could tackle immediately was extending the runway at Ian Fleming International Airport, and said it had “all the ingredients for stimulating the economy”.
Stewart also said he had spoken to some of the major airlines and they had told him that they would start service to the airport as soon as the runway was extended.
On Wednesday, passengers and crew on the QCAS Aero flight received an authentic Jamaican welcome from Government officials and airport staff.
“Everybody here is so nice. The food is amazing; I ate jerk chicken and got some mimosas,” said Pereze. “Everything overall was really smooth and that is what I liked. I’m starting university next month so this is my summer get away.
“I’m here for a day but I want to explore and go to the beaches. I didn’t really plan, so wherever the day takes me I’m really looking forward to a great time,” she said.
Another passenger, Janik Brisbane, was also impressed.
“The flight was amazing, very comfortable, and there was great food. It was very relaxing and since I’ve been here everybody has been welcoming so it is a great getaway. I’m enjoying the island life,” he told the Observer.
Transport and Mining Minister Audley Shaw, who was at the airport, said the arrival of the flight was in indication of the potential growth that the airport has to offer that region of the island.
“This is a day for celebration and the culmination of a long journey to capitalise on the potential and possibilities of the Ian Flemming International Airport. I specially welcome our visitors and members of the QCAS team to the Jamaican shore,” said Shaw.
“I’m excited about this progress of development. This expansion validates all the work being carried out by the Government and IFIA and other areas across the country to ensure growth in domestic travel,” Shaw added.
He made reference to American Airlines’ planned service, saying that those flights will fuel the possibility for further and future air traffic that will benefit the economy.
“I welcome the competitive environment to boost productivity, and right now Jamaica’s aviation traffic is increasing, even as we try to recover from the pandemic. Prior to the two-year lockdown our traffic stood at 1.5 billion passengers annually. We are hopeful that it will be more aggressive, and this occasion is a part of this revitalisation,” he said
Parliamentarian Montague said he not only viewed the airport as a travel hub but argued that myriad opportunities will result from the development.
“The opening of this airport is not only about landing planes, it is about the shops that are to be rented, it is about ground transport and those who have attractions and utilising the facility for pilot training, etc. This facility can mean so much to the people of St Mary and Jamaica if we just continue on the right path,” he said.