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Puerto Rico wants to be Caribbean air transport center

Staff writer |
Puerto Rico is trying to position itself as a key air transportation center in the Caribbean, taking advantage of growth opportunities in an industry that is essential to regional economic development, officials said.

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The expansion of air transportation links among the region's islands in the past few months has created opportunities to promote economic growth and tourism. Puerto Rico got a big win recently when Seaborne Airlines agreed to relocate its operations base to San Juan, with the facility's opening planned on March 22.

"There is a lot of churn in the economy, which some call a crisis and we see as an opportunity," Puerto Rican Economic Development Bank (EDB) president Joey Cancel Planas said in an interview with Efe.

Seaborne Airlines was able to move its operations base in San Juan because American Eagle decided to leave the island last April after decades of operating out of Luis Mu?oz Marin International Airport in the Puerto Rican capital.

The EDB got a 20 percent stake in Seaborne and two board seats, one of which will go to Cancel, for $9 million.

Seaborne Airlines, which had been based in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is moving its managers, mechanics and other personnel to San Juan. Seaborne offers flights from San Juan to St. Kitts and Nevis, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and St. Martin.

The deal between the EDB and Seaborne calls for the carrier to establish 10 new routes this year linking San Juan to Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and Haiti.

JetBlue, Avianca, Air Europa, Southwest, Cape Air, Avianca and LIAT are among the carriers planning to expand service to and from Puerto Rico, with some of the airlines picking up routes previously covered by American Eagle.

Southwest plans to offer flights soon linking Puerto Rico to the east and west coasts of the United States.

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