Caribbean Airlines marks the end of an era after returning its final 737-800 Next Generation aircraft to its lessor.
From a passenger perspective, Caribbean Airlines has already transitioned fully to operating Boeing 737 MAX 8s, but one -800NG remained stored as it underwent maintenance works for its eventual return. 9Y-ANU was the last to leave the fleet, and was returned to its leasing partner Carlyle Aviation Partners on March 23, 2023, flying to Miami as BW7380.
The 22-year-old aircraft originally joined the Trinidad and Tobago state-owned carrier BWIA West Indies Airways in November 2000 as a replacement for their ageing McDonnell Douglas MD-83s. BWIA was shut down at the end of 2006 after labor unions failed to reach an agreement with the carrier’s management.
As a result, a new government entity called Caribbean Airlines was formed, and many of its assets were transitioned. The “new” airline started on January 1, 2007 with six Boeing 737-800 Next Generation (NG) aircraft, five De Havilland Canada Dash 8-300s and one Airbus A340-300 which it used to service the Port of Spain (POS) to London Heathrow (LHR) route. The London route was later axed in May 2007, leaving the airline with its fleet of 737s.
Over time, the airline fleet of 737s grew and shrank depending on demand, with wet lease contracts being arranged with Transavia Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.
In 2011, the airline saw a number of additions to its fleet as Caribbean finalized the acquisition of Air Jamaica, resulting in an additional six 737-800s being leased bearing a new Air Jamaica branded livery. The airline decided not to take on Air Jamaica’s Airbus aircraft. Around this time, Caribbean also revamped its turboprop fleet, acquiring five new ATR 72-600s to replace their aging Dash 8-300s.
With these new additions, as well as other leases, Caribbean’s fleet consisted of 15 Boeing 737-800s and 5 ATR 72-600s.
Caribbean also resumed flights to England in 2012, this time to London Gatwick (LGW) with Boeing 767-300ER aircraft leased from Omni Air International. The airline eventually finalized their own leases, and ditched the Omni aircraft for two of their own leased Boeing 767-300ERs which previously flew for LAN Chile (LATAM).
In 2016, the loss making London service was once again cut, and Caribbean’s fleet deflated over time with the two 767s being passed on to Air Canada Rouge. A number of their 737s were also slowly returned to their respective lessors.
In November 2018, Caribbean announced plans to re-fleet its 737 line up with 12 leased Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. Even after the Lion Air MAX 8 crash in October 2018, Caribbean was still confident that the MAXs were the right choice.
Deliveries were expected to start as early as the fourth quarter of 2019, but these plans were later put on hold after an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft crashed in March 2019, resulting in that carrier grounding its MAX fleet. This caused a ripple effect which eventually led to all MAXs being grounded globally just days later.
Even though the MAX was officially cleared to fly on November 18, 2020, Caribbean now facing a new problem as borders were closed in Trinidad and Tobago as a result of the pandemic. While this might have slowed the MAX introduction, the work behind the scenes still continued, with the first MAX 8 finally joining the fleet in November 2021 in its new livery.
Slowly but surely, the remaining -800NGs left the fleet one by one, either heading to the scrap yards or finding a new life as cargo or passenger aircraft for other carriers. 9Y-JMF was given a new ‘lease’ on life, joining neighboring Surinam Airways as PZ-TCV in December 2022.
At the time of launch, Caribbean’s MAX 8s was branded as the 737-8, following in the footsteps of many other MAX operators trying to alleviate fears following the 2018 and 2019 crashes.
The airline opted to take delivery of nine MAXs, keeping the remaining three as options. It appears that the airline has route expansion plans in mind, and may eventually exercise their remaining three options. They have also leased another 3 ATR 72-600s, which will bring its ATR count to 10 by the end of May 2023 when they are delivered.
[Featured Photo: Bradley Wint/Gate Checked]