SCHEDULED domestic flights are to begin this month, Minister of Transport and Mining Robert Montague has said.

The disclosure was made two Fridays ago at the opening of the pilot's lounge at the Ken Jones Aerodrome in St Margaret's Bay, Portland.

“There were 64 airstrips when I was a child; then it reduced to 54. Now it come down to eight. I want to increase that amount of airstrips. I am pushing for scheduled domestic flights back in Jamaica. Coming next month we will have one airline starting and having scheduled domestic flights in Jamaica,” the minister said.

Jam Air is expected to operate daily one-way and round-trip flights from Montego Bay in St James to Tinson Pen in Kingston.

The pilot's lounge is the second to be opened in under a month in the country.

The minister stressed the importance of the lounge, a rest stop for pilots who, he said, previously rested in odd ways.

“What used to happen is when the pilots on a domestic flight lands at one of the aerodromes, you will find them resting in a car, under a tree, as it is important for them to rest before they take the next flight. It is that quiet place and by law, the pilots are to be rested hence the lounge,” Montague said.

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Minister of Transport and Mining Robert Montague (seated, left) and pilot Inaki Liahza seated in the new pilot’s lounge at Ken Jones Aerodrome as others look on

He mentioned that the Ken Jones Aerodrome in the 90s averaged 12,000 passengers per year when Air Jamaica Express flew into the facility.

“The figures I have shown that last year we did a 28 per cent increase over 2017 and last year we flew a grand total of 352 passengers. Therefore, that tells us if 12 years ago we had 12,000 passengers, if we improve the facility it can be a driver of other activities because there is interest.

“It will drive CASE (College of Agriculture, Science and Education) in its development. It will make CASE be more attractive for international students knowing that there is an aerodrome close by. When CASE wants something for a research programme it can be had quickly. When CASE produces their exotic crops, they can be transported from here.

“The facility can also enhance tourism in Portland where persons will now have a choice of driving or they can now fly in and expand the tourism base. It saves travel time and energy. This development is not just for today, but as we look to tomorrow, as we plan for the future. One day this facility may be an international airport,” Montague stated.

He stressed the importance of expanding the aerodrome and urged that nearby lands be bought to facilitate this.

“In moving forward, while profit is important, we have to make sure that the vision and dream of Ken Jones — this facility — will be a reflection of his dream and contribution to the service of the people of this parish and country,” he stressed.

The minister, at the same time, announced that two aviation scholarships will be awarded to children from communities surrounding the aerodrome.

“They must undertake aviation studies and this will be annual so that one day, one of these students will become president of the airport's authority; so that one day, one of them may fly their own plane into this facility. We need to expose these children to the industry (aviation) in a meaningful way,” he noted.

Pilot Christopher Reid, managing director at Airways International Limited, commended Montague.

“This is a most welcome and appreciated development, as it is critical for the safety of flights and the communities' improvement. It is much safer, easier, and quicker to get around instead of wasting time in traffic and on the road. We welcome your support and revitalisation of air transport. The reality is that we sat under the trees or in a car or by the fire truck, so we are grateful for this development,” he said out.

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AirLink aircraft is parked at Ken Jones Aerodrome in Portland