A Tale of Two Emerging Airlines

 The Cessna Caravan is Tropic Ocean Airways workhorse. Here one with floats at Princess Juliana Airport, Sint Maarten

The Cessna Caravan is Tropic Ocean Airways workhorse. Here one with floats at Princess Juliana Airport, Sint Maarten

One of the take-aways from the II Caribbean Aviation Meetup has been learning more about alternative airline business models.

In particular, I was particularly impressed by the achievements of a couple of young, small, airlines that have been able to identify and exploit profitably very specific market gaps.

Both Tropic Ocean Airways and Tradewind Aviation are the result of the vision of determined young entrepreneurs, ex-US Navy pilot Rob Ceravolo in the first case, and brothers Eric and David Zipkin in the latter.

They both have thrived by focusing on very specific niche markets that are overlooked or not suitable for traditional airlines and covering them with fleets of small planes.

Tropic Ocean Airways is based in Fort Lauderdale, FL and it is, primarily, a seaplane operator, witha  fleet of Cessna Caravan 208 (some with floats, some wheeled). It flies to multiple destinations in the Caribbean, mostly between Florida and the Bahamas and is currently looking to expand its reach in the region.

seaplane flytropic.JPG

Tropic Ocean Airways model has proven popular , to the point that it has more than doubled its fleet and tripled its number of passengers over the last two years. Not a surprise if you listened to the presentation its CEO, Rob Ceravolo delivered at the Caribbean aviation conference, exuding confidence and determination.

seaplane paddle.JPG

On top you can see the seaplane paddle...yes, seaplanes carry paddles!

To the right, the compartments inside the seaplane floats, that can be used to store plenty of things, from baggage to buoys...

seaplane float compartment.JPG

As a side note, one of Tropic Ocean Airways seaplanes flew a bunch of conference attendees between Sint Maarten and the nearby island to Sint Eustatius, for a demo flight that included a proper touch-and-go landing.

 A view of the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Eustatius (popularly known as "Statis") and its majestic volcano

A view of the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Eustatius (popularly known as "Statis") and its majestic volcano

Although Tradewind Aviation started in the New York area, serving the vacational to places like the Hamptons or Martha's Vineyard, it has been busy expanding in the Caribbean. It has now a base in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from where it flies to the US Virgin Islands, St.Barts and some other of the Antilles.

 The Pilatus PC-12 allows Tradewind to take vacationers to and from local airports

The Pilatus PC-12 allows Tradewind to take vacationers to and from local airports

This Caribbean foothold allows it to smooth the demand over the Winter months, when most of the activity moves to warmer climates.

Tradewing Aviation fleet, that has grown to 21 aircraft, is made of Pilatus PC-12 turboprops and Citation CJ3 jets.

cabin of pilatus pc-12.JPG

What is interesting about Tradewind is that it is, to a large degree, a commuter operation (admittedly for a rather affluent segment of the public), with many of its clients being regular vacationers with second homes at destination, for which this type of short-haul flying is a compelling alternative to ground transportation.

Tradewind aviation pc-12.JPG

Two names, thus, to add to a growing list of entrepreneurial airlines that are redefining the traditional boundaries of air travel, between commercial and executive aviation, thriving at the boundary between these two Worlds.