Air connectivity is a critical element to economic growth and development for the small island nations of the Caribbean. Additional air services, frequencies and traffic volumes contribute to increased employment opportunities and benefit the wider economy through catalytic effects – benefits created by, rather than within aviation – according to the Caribbean Development Bank. In the Caribbean, the relationship between aviation and economic growth is mainly through the facilitation of travel to support the tourism industry, which is the region’s primary income earner and supports various other businesses.
Estimates from the World Tourism & Travel Council show that the total contribution of travel and tourism to Caribbean GDP was $57.1 billion in 2017 (15.2% of GDP). It is forecast to rise by 3.6% per annum to $84 billion by 2028 (17.8% of GDP). Travel and tourism directly generated 758,000 jobs in 2017 (4.3% of total employment). In recognition of this significant value added, several Caribbean governments have taken steps to increase connectivity and airlift into their respective territories.
For residents of Micronesia, the “Island Hopper”, a United Airlines flight that leaves Honolulu for Guam four times a week, is a lifeline. It brings cargo, mail, food, medical supplies, family members, business people and important tourism dollars to the remote islands far faster and more regularly and reliably than supply ships. The flight spans five hours from Honolulu to Majuro (crossing the International Dateline on the way), then 90 minutes to the army airfield in Kwajalein, one hour on to Kosrae, another hour to Pohnpei, one more hour to Chuuk and finally another two hours to Guam.
A large part of the islands’ economies has depended on the Island Hopper for 50 years, notably the tourism industry. Chuuk Lagoon is one of the world’s best scuba diving destinations, but without the regular flight tourism in Chuuk would not exist. Some of the islands it stops at are so remote the airline carries a mechanic on board to ensure the service maintains its reliability.