CAL struggles as Max 8s still parked

| 07/08/2019 | 95 Comments
Cayman News Service
CAL Max 8 aircraft in Seattle

(CNS): The problem of operating Cayman Airways Ltd’s international flight schedule with only three jet planes, while its two brand new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft remain grounded, is beginning to bite for the airline. Officials apologised for a number of delays over the past week, as maintenance issues on two of the working fleet put them out of action, leaving the national flag carrier struggling to meet its schedule.

With the new planes parked after two fatal two crashes of that model, believed to have been caused by software problems, CAL officials said adjustments had been made because of the reduced fleet but that there is no room for technical problems.

Last week two technical issues on two different planes resulted in a limited service and extended delays for CAL, from Wednesday until yesterday, after the airline was unable to secure substitute aircraft.

One of the planes was in maintenance for four days. But less than two days after that plane was repaired a second plane was grounded, interrupting services on Monday and Tuesday. CAL said it had ensured that passengers were alerted and helped where possible through various means. However, the strain of having two aircraft grounded is beginning to have a significant impact on operations.

CNS has reached out to officials at CAL asking them what decisions, if any, have been made regarding the contract with Boeing or what the situation is regarding compensation and we are waiting for a response. According to the latest updates about the beleaguered 737 Max 8’s, Boeing is still trying to deal with the software problems and the planes could still be grounded at Christmas, despite the plane manufacturer’s claims that it will have a fix to submit to the US Federal Aviation Authority by next month.

In a release explaining the delays and problems the airline is enduring, Cayman Airways President and CEO Fabian Whorms apologised to passengers affected by the unanticipated delays.

“Every day, we transport up to two thousand international passengers, and the grounding of our two new 737 Max 8 aircraft has complicated our ability to do that consistently to the high service standard that we are known for,” he said.

“We are grateful for all customer feedback received, and are diligently working on improving the customer experience during such irregular operations. Thankfully, even with a reduced fleet, extended delays are rare, as our operational teams in flight operations, ground operations and maintenance, work hard on ensuring safe, enjoyable, and reliable service for the many who travel to and from our islands with us.”

Meanwhile, the airline remains behind on publishing its annual reports. During the latest session of the Legislative Assembly, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell presented the financial statements and report for the budget period between June 2016 and the end of 2017, when instead of producing a budgeted surplus of more $300,000, the airline ended the year with a deficit of almost $11 million.

In the report, management said that increased competition on routes to Cuba and Miami resulted in a loss of expected revenue of around $6 million, while expenses in most areas and operating costs all increased. Although the airline made the decision to replace the ageing fleet during the 2016-2017 period, the depreciation of the existing fleet led to a decision to lease a bridge aircraft, which cost the flag carrier more than $6 million.

Passengers affected by extended delays this past week who may still have questions or concerns, are encouraged to contact the airline directly by emailing

See the 2016-17 report in the CNS Library

CNS news is free to read but not free to produce. Please consider supporting independent journalism in the Cayman Islands.

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Comments (95)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    At some point, many months ago, a cost-sensitive airline exec might have looked at the scenario, crash evidence, Boeing-engineer testimony, outlook for recertification, and cut bait on paying $20mln in duplicated hardware, simply for the vanity of having one of the first deliveries of an airplane type that crashes. Renegotiating the secret undisclosed lease agreement hasn’t been tabled, no doubt due to take-it-or-leave-it lease riders in the agreement. There should be a price on competency – and a consequence!

  2. Anonymous says:

    should have been smarter and halved the fleet with mixed aircraft, obviously

    • Say it like it is. says:

      1.07pm or asked Airbus for a quote.

    • Anonymous says:

      A mixed fleet is way more expensive to operate… spare parts, maintenance, training, etc. The ordering of four identical aircraft was a smart business decision at the time. CAL, just like many other airlines in the world, could not have forseen all that has happened with the Max.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The worst part is arriving at the airport at 9am for a midday flight from NY to GCM, and not departing until after midnight with little to no communication until around 8pm as to the revised timeline. That’s not acceptable and wastes an entire day sat around the airport that could be spent more productively. Everyone understands that there may at times be technical issues and delays, however, it’s how these delays are communicated to us paying passengers that’s been absolutely unacceptable. We were told there would be rides available for our 4:30am arrival in Cayman to take us home, only to arrive to no taxis or vehicles there, a 30 min wait for a taxi and a $30 fare to pay myself, when had we arrived at our original time we would have been collected as planned by family.

  4. Brazley McLean says:

    I wonder when they are going to announce that the airport is going to be closed for operation on September 10 and possibility multiple Tuesdays after that…

    CNS: To be fair, they have already – See here. However, it might be a good idea for the CIAA to do more to publicise this over the next few weeks.

  5. Anonymous says:

    fly aa. better planes, better timekeeping, same price.

    • Anonymous says:

      Also Southwest, plus free bags.

    • Anonymous says:

      plus better miles programme

    • Anonymous says:

      Not so sure about that..Both my flights on AA were cancelled (morning departure and late evening return) and from what I gather they have permanently cancelled the morning outbound flight and the night flight returning due to not having enough planes due to the B737 Max they have… Coming back last Sunday on AA378 I was delayed for two hours. Delays happen with all airlines. I think Cayman Airways is just caught up in the repeated delays because they are operating a 4 plane schedule with 3 airplanes and of course two of their aircraft are grounded as they are the B737 Max.

    • Anonymous says:

      AA is quite possibly the most customer hostile airline ever. I avoid wherever possible.

  6. Anonymous says:

    A few months from now, after all the nightmares I have heard about CAL recently, no one will want to fly with them. Would be better to allocate the money to developing infrastructure on the island – we don’t need an airline. We need clean air, water and a solution to our traffic problem. With all of out pollution problems i’m surprise tourists even risk coming here. In the meantime I guess cut off the wings of those Max8, throw some tesla motors in and use ’em as electric buses!

  7. Anonymous says:

    What CAL needs to do is to STOP charging prices that are exhorbitant and unnecessary. Case in point, I had to make a sudden trip to Miami last week. CAL quoted me a price of USD387.00 to Miami. I researched and went to FLL on Southwest for $68 less and this price INCLUDED a rental car AND 2 FREE bags. So from now on, I will use Southwest. Pains me to have to say this but reality speaks.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I am thankful CALs directors decided to ground the new planes when they did, they probably saved hundreds of lives. A good decision that I commend you all for. However, it’s time now to draw your bridges up and make a decision to rid of these 2 new planes. To be quite frank, I don’t think I would want to risk me or my family on one of these planes. What next? You are up in the air and suddenly the computer needs an update for it to remain in the air? No thanks! Before the bottom of the bucket drops out and other available planes are sucked up by other carriers, CALs directors should cancel its lease of these two planes (not an unreasonable request) and move on before they are stuck with a couple of lemons. It is now apparent, the existing 3 planes in commission are unable to keep up with demand and sooner or later man made mistakes will occur. So let’s be smart, swallow your prides and get on with providing a reliable and safe transport. Just my 2 cents. Btw I use to travel a minimum of once a month and support my national airline. However since this issue I am staying put and will probably for a long time!!

  9. Anon says:

    Miami, Denver, New York flights running late yet we can put on 52 extra Jamaica flights for the summer to bring in more kids to roam our streets

  10. Anonymous says:

    How many thumps up if you’ll be comfortable flying The Max? NOT ME!

  11. Paul Scott says:

    You mean Airbus A320neo.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Here is one solution:

    Sir Richard

    It has been great to see you spending more time here. You are well liked and respected by the Caymanian people, and we hope you have felt very welcome in our vibrant and growing community.

    We have a favor to ask that may be to our mutual benefit.

    Our much loved national airline finds itself in a spot of bother due mostly to its reliance on 737 MAX aircraft.

    In short could you please let us know whether or not you might be interested in acquiring our airline (including its debt) for $1.00.? The terms would be negotiated but would include a transfer of all international landing rights and schedule. You could rebrand it Virgin Stingray but we would have a condition that it be based out of the Cayman Islands, and employ such of its current personnel as meet reasonable international criteria.

    We would like nice new aircraft and need guarantees of regular flights to Miami, Houston, New York, and Kingston. We would expect that subject to large upward fuel price fluctuations and not including taxes, the round trip fare to Miami, if purchased at least 30 days in advance, be no more than $500.

    We would perhaps be prepared to guarantee a certain number of seats to maintain viability on necessary routes, but would NOT expect you to provide free airfares to everyone who was ever a director or employee of Cayman Airways, or their spouses, children, and first cousins.

    We would also need commitments to operate evacuation flights (for an agreed fee) in the event of natural disaster, and a free rum punch on every flight, if requested.

    We would encourage you of course to operate other routes, including throughout the region and internationally, and Cayman Airways Express would continue to operate flights to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.

    Were you able to assist us with extracting ourselves from this predicament in an appropriate manner we would be happy to bestow on you the Right to be Caymanian.

    It would be great to get this going by Christmas.

    Love and Hugs

    The Caymanian People

    What do the thumbs think?

  13. Anonymous says:

    C A L. Are always late, now they are double or three times late. They change the schedules to later and are still late. I guess, C A L, means, Can’t Always Leave/ Comes Always Late

  14. Anonymous says:

    CNS – It would be interesting to know if there is any truth in the rumour that because CAL chose to ground the aircraft before the official FAA/CAA grounding, it means that they are still having to pay lease fees while they sit there idle. And, if they had waited for the official grounding they would not have.

    CNS: Wendy is doing a follow-up story and hoping to get more details about the leasing situation.

    • Anonymous says:

      You cannot put a price on safety

    • Anonymous says:

      how come the travel minister isn’t being kicked out for this fiasco? Couldn’t forsee this, not his fault. His fault for agreeing to buy all the same type of plane

  15. Anonymous says:

    AA just cancelled the early flight out of here. We are screwed, airlines will be charging double by year end to help with the cost.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Send back the MAX8 , get the 737neo no issues with this model..bite the bullet…

    • Anonymous says:

      Except a 737neo doesn’t exist

      • Anonymous says:


        • Stef says:

          The 800 are getting old as well. Makes no sense to go back from Max 8. As much as it PAINS me to say…the A320neo or even A321 is better at this point. We know how we Caymanians are…even though other airlines will start using them immediately after re-certification, we will be hesitant. CAL will need a few Boeing Execs to come in personally for some reassurance to gain trust in that aircraft.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I agree fully with Johnny Rotten. However, this situation has been waiting to bite CAL in the ass for years. The problem is that CAL does not have or use typical airline procedures for selecting aircraft, i.e utilizing relevant marketing and route data as well as technical assessments. They simply leave the selection to a select team of pilots who decide based on what type (within reason) they would like to fly. Hence the choices of the Max 8 and Saab 340 now and other unsuitable selections in the past!

    • Anonymous says:

      2:15? CAL gets the government to keep up this show of loss. This goverment cannot continue to run CAL at a loss. Why is CAL not allowing the free market to bring in passengers. Control freaks.
      Is it just because you want to show off a CAL logo on the back of a plane? No problem. I am sure you could rent space on planes from other Countries? Surely they would allow Sir Turtle or the half a He hath founded it upon the seas logo on ther planes. No one cares about logos on planes any more in a world of over sinage. Please. Let’s just get the finances in order. Lateness has to do with morale and planning. Your CAL planes are always late and word does get out. Everyone knows and says nothing. Group think? Sell the planes, fire people and regroup.

      • anon says:

        12.18am I assume you just landed on CAL. If they continue with the Max the logo needs to be amended to “he hath founded it IN the seas”.

      • Anonymous says:

        You obviously were not here after Ivan where the only relief coming in was on CAL. All the rest of them just left us high and, well we weren’t all that dry, but CAL and the “Cayman Air Force” were the only ones that made a huge difference in the early aftermath.

        Is CAL more expensive, yes. There are issues of course. It is a small organisation trying to compete against huge competitors with deep pockets. But those same competitors will try and lure you with a lower cost until there is no competition and then you will still pay the same, or more. Don’t even try and guess how much you would pay in a post Ivan kind of scenario, if they would even fly here, with water, generators, doctors, and nurses to save your sorry ass.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Terminate the 737-800 Max leases and get the Boeing 737-700, 737-800, 737-900 or 737-900ER variants instead.

    Not sure how customers will ever trust the 737-800 Max again even if Boeing issue a fix….?

  19. Anonymous says:

    What new information is CAL mgmt waiting for? A year from now, if these aircraft are ALLOWED to fly, who will board those aircraft? If we are leasing these, then the leaseowner is getting compensation from Boeing that CAL is not seeing. Another terribly one-sided deal negotiated by stooges in the Unity/PPM camp – and WE have to pay for it (again)! This is exactly why we ask to see the deal structure and agreement, and why they have to be made public.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Why do the Cayman Islands Government Continue to Subsidize CAL to the tune of tens of millions, at some point we have to realize that this subsidy is more than the benefits having a national airline provides.

    • Anonymous says:

      Because having CAL is just gravy on the side for all the MLA’s both current and retired , old retired hosties and ALL their families , aunties & uncles & cousins. We are talkin’ hundreds of people here, who either fly free or pay mere dollars for a fare.

  21. Bertie : B says:

    Boeing thinks they can just change the name , after the hmmmm fix . And we wont know the aircraft . How f@#$%^ g niave do they think people are ?

  22. Anonymous says:

    cal has been a loss making shambles for a long time.
    5 star price for 2 star quality.
    sell cal asap.

  23. Anonymous says:

    This was either a “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” or a “trying to walk before you can crawl” decision by CAL. They could easily have gone for the tried and tested 737-800 or 900 but somebody clearly wanted an airplane that was newer, shinier and more high-tech. It was a status move rather than a business decision. But what do you expect from what is effectively a state-subsidised airline?

    Current lease on a 737-800 is around $150K a month so where did that $6million go on the ‘bridge’ aircraft? There’s something screwy going on here, the numbers don’t add up.

    • Anonymous says:

      You have no idea about what you are saying. CAL was paying more per month for a 13 year old B737-800 than they are paying for the Max 8. I will give you the B737-800 was flying…

  24. Anonymous says:

    No software fix for this one.Boeing messed with the design,moved the engines.Send them back these planes will never be safe.

    • Anonymous says:

      Exactly! They should have redesigned the plane from the ground up!

    • Anonymous says:

      The design was amazing in 1950 – but constantly reusing a 70 year old fuselage design first flown in 1954’s Boeing 367-80 was going to hit an expiry date. It has, and Cayman Airways must now suffer the consequence of that choice. Even American Airlines went with Airbus. Hindsight is always 20:20, but Boeing lost its lead years ago. It is a shame Cayman Airways did not notice.

      • Anonymous says:

        All of the pilots, maintenance men etc. know Boeing. I am not saying your position is unreasonable but you can see why they stuck with Boeing. This is a tiny airline that needs to leverage the experience it already has as much as possible. They could not foresee the very plane they chose, which had all the things the airline needs (more seats, more range, better fuel economy, new for less maintenance, new for comfort and aesthetics), would be the one Boeing cut corners on and that it would have two fatal crashes attributable to design and training failures committed by Boeing within a few months of each other. Even one crash with question marks over the plane’s safety was not enough to ground them. It took two crashes and confirmation that they had related causes. So we are rather unlucky. I am not sure that the selection can be criticised because intervening events have put us in this position.

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s not that difficult to re-cert on a new type. Takes 4-6 weeks of training investment by the airline, and it’s not like we have a CAL hanger with Boeing simulators that we have to auction off or a CAL-branded Boeing parts depot to sell.

          • Anonymous says:

            I take that point as it was made in another comment. I am not an aviation expert. I just don’t think you can criticise the choice to stay with Boeing unless you know about what has happened with the Max 8 now. Go back in time and it’s an uncontroversial, obvious decision. What was the business case to go for Airbus? Was there one?

            • Anonymous says:

              Yes, as Delta and American determined years ago in choosing Airbus A320 and A220 Aircraft over 737’s.

  25. Chet Oswald Ebanks says:

    So CAL fleet of 737-300 aircraft could be way over 30 years very scarey to know. Know wonder we have been pouring money into a company that makes no sense. Ceo Fabian Whorms states CAL transports thousands. Which is good. But what is not good is if you go right right to any hotel on Grand Cayman. You would see very few Caymanians. Those 3 aircraft needs to be taken out of service and sunken, to make artificial reefs, dives sites. Why do you voters keep voting in the same. Who only care for themselves.

    Thank you.

    Jan 17, 1984 737-300
    The first 737-300 rolled out of the factory Jan. 17, 1984. The launch customers were USAir (now US Airways) and Southwest Airlines. The first 737-400 rolled out of the factory Jan. 26, 1988, with Piedmont Airlines as the launch customer.

    • Anonymous says:

      Just for the record Chet..US Airways no longer exists…Airplanes are machines not people. They can still operate when they are older just not as efficiently as the newer technology ones..

  26. Anonymous says:

    Maybe Caribbean Airlines should buy out Cayman Airways like it did with Air Jamaica? just saying.

    • Proud Caymanians says:

      We are proud Caymanians, that will not happen

      • Anonymous says:

        2:35 my friend it takes money to run the mail and CAL. Swallow your pride. It has been a loss like forever. Where have you been? Under a guinep or breadfruit tree sleeping? Wake up. This is Cayman and not Fantasy Island. Things run on money and your government needs lots of it for salaries, etc. Call the Governor and tell him to get the budget for your government real.

    • Anonymous says:

      Might be a good idea. Caribbean Airlines seems to be doing very well, expanding service in the Caribbean.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Is there a class action suit against them yet that we can jump in on?
    Boeing should be assisting for what they have caused. Especially to the smaller carriers.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Such a shame. A real national shame that Boeing may put our national carrier out of business.
    I have been in the industry for over 30 years and can only speak from what I know.
    We cannot afford to lose KX. Most of you that were here from before Ivan will understand this. Those that complain about KX and how we need to get rid of it because of $$ losses have no idea what you are talking about.
    When T&C lost their national carrier the fares between Provo and MIA doubled (Vulture airlines). When KX pull the Orlando route, Vulture airlines doubled that fare.
    Ever notice how much more the nonstop to ATL and CLT are so much higher? No competition. Notice how NYC is actually cheaper than going to MIA? Competition.

    Whether you believe it or not, it is KX that instigates almost all of the fare sales. Think of the last time AA instigated one of their own. They only follow suit from KX.
    When AA stopped flights several DAYS prior to Ivan, they stranded many people. It was KX that ferried people out, up until the very last minute. I was a part of this and I know this for a fact. (regarding the prices, you would have to understand how the fare ladders/computers/availability etc., work and why that happened. CAL did not judge that part very well but have done so since)

    We need to be in support of our national carrier. We absolutely CANNOT lose CAL. AA would be very happy to step in and double our fares off the island as they have done so historically all over the world. Kind of like a vulture….
    And what do we know about Vultures?

  29. Anonymous says:

    Terminate the Max 8 lease and lease something else?

  30. anon says:

    What was the result of the investigation into the damage caused to one of the 737’s at JFK in July?.

  31. Johnny Rotten says:

    Even after a software fix you won’t get me on a Max 8. And even if the flight was free. Boeing’s goose or Max 8 is essentially well done at this point.

    CAL needs to start preparing to rescind their contact with Boeing or be prepared to go out of business completely. We the tax payers will eventually have to cough up more money to subsidise CAL for this debacle.

    Do the people have to initiate anther referendum to settle this too?

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