Caribair (Puerto Rico)
|Commenced operations||February 1939|
|Operating bases||Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport|
|Fleet size||See Historical fleet below|
|Destinations||See Destinations below|
|Headquarters||San Juan, Puerto Rico|
Caribair was an international airline that was based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1970, the air carrier was serving sixteen destinations on fourteen islands in the Caribbean region as well as Miami, which was the airline's only destination on the United States. The cover of its April, 1970 system timetable proclaimed "Only Caribair Goes All The Way" which reflected its direct, no change of plane McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 jet service operated via a number of intermediate stops including San Juan between Miami and Port of Spain, Trinidad located at the southern end of the Caribbean island chain off the coast of South America. Caribair was also the first Puerto Rican-based airline to operate jet aircraft on scheduled passenger services. The air carrier was acquired by Eastern Air Lines in 1973.
The Powelson Line began operating in February 1939 as Caribbean Atlantic Airlines and later as Caribair on July 20, 1948 by authorization of the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). The air carrier was initially a subsidiary of Florida based National Airlines, with this status later being revoked by the CAB. The airline's first timetable was published on May 15, 1945. At the beginning, Caribbean Atlantic Airlines served Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. In 1946 the operation previously controlled by stateside investors was bought by a group of Puerto Ricans under the leadership of the Trigo brothers who were San Juan import exporters.
The Caribair service was popular both with local residents and tourists alike traveling between Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. By 1950, the airline's name had officially changed to Caribair and services to the Dominican Republic were initiated. Caribair continued to expand during the 1950s and 1960s, and by 1962, the international airline was serving a number of destinations including San Juan, Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. Maarten. Destinations in Puerto Rico served from San Juan included Mayaguez and Ponce.
Eastern Airlines desired a larger presence in Puerto Rico and so assisted with the financing the opening of the Dorado Beach hotel, in Dorado on the island. The hotel was located in close proximity to Dorado Airport, which was a former military air base which had reopened as a civilian airport in the early 1960s shortly after Laurence Rockefeller opened his new hotel facility. Caribair then began operating select flights on behalf of Eastern Airlines. The Eastern Airlines system timetable dated June 13, 1967 lists flights independently operated by Caribair between San Juan and St. Thomas and also between San Juan and St. Croix. Caribair operated these flights with Convair 640 turboprop aircraft. In order to compete with an increase in flight activity from other airlines such as British West Indian Airways (BWIA) and Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT), Caribair ordered new McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 jetliners, becoming as previously stated the first Puerto Rican-based airline to offer modern jet service. BWIA had introduced new Boeing 727-100 jetliners into their fleet while LIAT subsequently began operating stretched British Aircraft Corporation BAC One-Eleven series 500 twin jets in order to enhance their interisland flight services. Thus, Caribair, mindful of the competition in the Caribbean, took delivery of the new DC-9 jets which allowed the airline to expand their route system. Caribair soon began flying new jet service to Miami, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Aruba, Curacao, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados, Guadaloupe, Martinique and Trinidad. During the early 1970s, Caribair's roundtrip DC-9 jet service between Miami and San Juan made intermediate stops in Santo Domingo, Port-au-Prince, Kingston and Montego Bay.
In June 1970, the Puerto Rican Air National Guard apparently received reports concerning a mystery object from a Caribair jet as well as from a Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) jetliner. Pilots in both aircraft reportedly claimed to have seen an unidentified flying object (UFO) close to San Juan's Isla Verde International Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a statement about this incident in 1977.
During the early 1970s, air service was expanded by Eastern at Atlanta, Delta Air Lines' hub airport and home base. With Eastern contesting with Delta for market supremacy both in Atlanta and in the southern U.S., Eastern felt it was necessary to acquire Caribair. The sale was completed by the summer of 1973, by which time Delta had also realized the potential of Puerto Rico as a lucrative destination. Delta expanded its service to the Puerto Rican market during the mid-1970s, after decades of operating minimal service to San Juan. In the mid-1960s, Delta only flew one flight six days a week from San Juan to New Orleans with continuing, no-change-of-plane service depending on the day of the week to Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Eastern bought Caribair's entire fleet and by 1980, Eastern had established a hub at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) in San Juan. Other local airlines such as Prinair, Air Puerto Rico and Fina Air attempted to follow in Caribair's footsteps as Puerto Rico's main international airline; however, none were successful as Caribair although Puerto Rican-based Executive Airlines was acquired by American Airlines as an American Eagle regional carrier.
In the recent past, American Airlines was the dominant player in San Juan with a connecting hub system being operated by the air carrier at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU) to include mainline jet flights to destinations on the U.S. mainland as well as ATR-72 turboprop service operated to various Caribbean islands by their regional airline affiliate American Eagle. However, statements were then made by American which appeared to indicate that their San Juan hub would be significantly downsized. Subsequently, Executive Airlines, operating as American Eagle from San Juan, discontinued all scheduled passenger service on April 1, 2013 and no longer operates ATR-72 propjets while American Airlines no longer operates a hub at San Juan.
In 2002, an airline based in the Dominican Republic, Dominican company Caribair, began to fly using the Caribair name. However, this air carrier is no longer in existence.
The following destination information is taken from the Caribair system timetable dated April 1, 1970. According to this timetable, Caribair was operating all scheduled passenger flights at this time with McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 jetliners as the airline's Convair 640 turboprop aircraft had been withdrawn from scheduled services.
- Bridgetown, Barbados (BGI)
- Castries, St. Lucia - Vigie Airport, now known as George F.L. Charles Airport (SLU)
- Fort-de-France, Martinique (FDF)
- Kingston, Jamaica (KIN)
- Miami, Florida (MIA)
- Montego Bay, Jamaica (MBJ)
- Oranjestad, Aruba (AUA)
- Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadaloupe (PTP)
- Port-au-Prince, Haiti (PAP)
- Port of Spain, Trindad (POS)
- Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (SDQ)
- St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands (STX)
- St. John's, Antigua (ANU)
- St. Maarten (SXM)
- St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (STT)
- San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU) - Home Base
- Willemstad, Curacao (CUR)
In 1968, Caribair was operating a mixed fleet consisting of both McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 jets and Convair 640 turboprops with the latter being used to provide scheduled flights into destinations that were either operationally constrained with regard to DC-9 service or simply could not support the passenger numbers required for profitable jet operations. A number of these destinations were eliminated from the Caribair route system when the airline decided to operate only DC-9 jet service. These former destinations included the islands of Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent and St. Kitts as well as Mayaguez, Dorado and Ponce on the island of Puerto Rico.
- Douglas DC-3 (11 aircraft) - this was also the workhorse of the Caribair fleet well into the 1960s, making regular jaunts between San Juan, Ponce and Mayagüez, particularly before the construction of modern highways on the island.
- McDonnell Douglas DC-9-31 (3 aircraft) - The DC-9 was the only jet aircraft type operated by Caribair.
- Convair CV-340 (9 aircraft)
- Convair CV-440 (Leased) (2 aircraft)
- Convair CV-640 (7 aircraft) - The CV-640 was the only turboprop aircraft type operated by Caribair.
- Lockheed Model 50 Leased (2 aircraft)
- Stinson SM-6000-A/B (5 aircraft)