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When Did BWIA West Indies Airways Become Caribbean Airlines?

People that have flown in and out of Trinidad and Tobago in recent years are likely to be familiar with its flag carrier, Caribbean Airlines. This state-owned enterprise also serves as the national airline for Guyana and Jamaica. However, its history goes back further than you might think, in the form of its predecessor, BWIA West Indies Airways. Let’s take a look at the history of this carrier, and at what point it took on the identity that it retains today.

BWIA West Indies Airways Airbus A340
It was hard to miss BWIA’s green and yellow livery! Photo: Dale Coleman via Wikimedia Commons

Formed in the 1930s

BWIA West Indies Airways dates all the way back to November 1939, when former World War I fighter pilot Lowell Yerex established the airline. It first took to the skies a year later, with a Lockheed Lodestar plying its initial route between Trinidad and Barbados. Its name at the time was simply BWIA, which stood for British West Indian Airways.

Impressive growth saw the carrier serve long-haul destinations such as London in the 1960s. This decade also saw BWIA enter the jet age by flying the Boeing 727, which it dubbed the ‘sunjet.’ In 1980, BWIA became Trinidad and Tobago’s national airline when it merged with Trinidad and Tobago Air Services to become BWIA International Airways.

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BWIA Boeing 727
BWIA entered the jet age in 1964 with the Boeing 727. Photo: Jon Proctor via Wikimedia Commons

66 years of service as the national airline

Under the new name, BWIA’s fleet and network grew. In addition to its existing London route, it also served other European destinations in the form of Frankfurt, Glasgow, and Manchester. The airline, which locals affectionately knew as ‘Bee-Wee,’ flew various jetliners, including widebodies like the Airbus A340, the Lockheed TriStar, and even the Boeing 747.

At face value, BWIA was in a strong financial position at the turn of the century. Indeed, 2003 saw it carry 1.4 million passengers and 8,100 tonnes of cargo, while employing approximately 2,350 members of staff. This generated earnings of around $276 million.

However, despite these earnings, BWIA continued to make losses. Financial injections from the Trinidad and Tobago government helped to prop it up, but, in September 2006, the carrier announced its closure after 66 years of service. The government agreed that a new carrier, known as Caribbean Airlines, would take over its role, starting in January 2007.

Caribbean Airlines Boeing 737
Caribbean Airlines commenced operations in January 2007. Photo: BriYYZ via Flickr

Caribbean Airlines today

Although this could have meant that BWIA’s 1,700 employees at the time would lose their jobs, Trinidad Express reports that they were able to apply for contracts with the new carrier. However, Caribbean Airlines started off as a somewhat streamlined re-incarnation, with routes to the likes of London, Manchester, New York, and Toronto being cut.

As such, the airline, which celebrated its 14th anniversary earlier this year, has more of a short to medium-haul focus. That being said, it did receive a boost when it acquired Air Jamaica in 2011. According to ch-aviation.com, its present fleet is as follows.

  • 7x ATR72-600.
  • 10x Boeing 737-800.

In terms of the airline’s destinations, it flies primarily to locations throughout the Caribbean. That being said, it also has a presence at four US airports and one in Canada, as well as three countries in South America (Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela).

Did you ever fly with BWIA West Indies Airways? Perhaps, if not, you’ve flown with its successor, Caribbean Airlines, instead? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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