Cuba Is a Gold Mine
Q & A with Nicolas Doyle, Owner of White Star Aviation
By Elio Socorro and Jorge Coromina (Caribbean News Digital)
Cuba has become a sky of opportunities and many visionary businesspeople are willing to fly through its clouds. Caribbean News Digital sat down with Nickolas Doyle, owner of White Star Aviation, a company founded three months ago and based in Southampton, London.
What actually drove Mr. Doyle to found his company had to do with a reconnaissance trip he made three years ago for some clients to visit Cuba.
“During our time here, we found that the logistics to move around were very limited. I would bring them with the yacht, start in Havana and then go to Trinidad and Cienfuegos, but it’s a long way round by boat. If they wanted to go to Viñales, it takes two and half hours by car; if they wanted to go to Varadero, it’s an hour and half; Trinidad takes five hours by car. So, it’s logistically complex,” Mr. Doyle told Caribbean News Digital in this exclusive interview during his visit to Havana in late September.
“However, the logistics for helicopters is good. At that time, I thought that there was some kind of logistical problem with helicopters. I knew at that time that there was one helicopter in use, which could carry ten passengers, but that is old, expensive and often used by the military,” he went on to explain.
Mr. Doyle spent ten days traveling around the north coast of Cuba. He visited Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Varadero, Havana, Las Terrazas, among other places.
When asked about the reason why he chose Cuba to develop his project, he said that the island nation is a special place. “It’s huge and it’s such a great place to bring people to visit. There are so many interesting places here. In other places in the Caribbean there are too many tourists, it’s really busy. It’s not nice and it’s not safe. But it’s safe here. There is great potential here. It’s a mega-destination. So, to start something here, which is not established anywhere else, is the main focus. That’s a vision for me.”
Besides being much bigger than the rest of Caribbean islands, Mr. Doyle explained that there is more diversity in Cuba. “You’ve got Viñales with the caves and everything there. There are mountains to the south. You’ve got culture, history. It’s a gold mine. Crime rates are very low. This is probably one of the safest places to be on earth now,” he added.
As for the negotiations with Cuban authorities, Mr. Doyle believes the project will be greenlighted. “I’ve been talking to them about the project. They are aware of the project, they know we’re here and what we’re trying to achieve here. I have to meet the IACC and Gaviota. I have already held meetings with Havanatur, Cubasol, Marlin Marinas. Havanatur is like the umbrella for all the companies underneath. We had lots of meeting scheduled with different people, but we realized that it was better to streamline everything,” he said with a smile.
If the White Star Aviation project gets the nod, Mr. Doyle would get to organize the helicopters first, since it would take some time before they are in Cuba. “I have to order the helicopters. They are ready to go, but there are some details and I want everything done. There are some specifications I want to change.
“I’ve identified certain markets here. This idea aims at the tourists that want something a little bit different. With this kind of service, purely because of the speed, they’ll see many places in one go, instead of needing three or four days. If you’re doing all in one go, as a combined tour, it begins from the airport or wherever we get permission to fly from, with shorts flights. That’s where a lot of the revenue comes from because it’s quick and they pay for the flight for an hour. If it’s a 15-min flight, you can have more flights in one hour and also charge a premium fare for the seating. The view from the cabin is enormous, but they’ll all have a great view,” he pointed out.
Once the project gets the approval, the company would primarily settle down in Havana, followed by Holguin and Trinidad or Santa Clara. Its offices could cover Santiago and the southern region, with Trinidad as the main branch in the central region and Havana open to international flights to the Bahamas and Mexico, for instance.
“We’re looking at international flights, not only domestic. We’d go to the Dominican Republic. I know that there are flights from the Dominican Republic coming to Santiago. We’re having our own technicians trained by Airbus, so we can also have helicopters from the region coming to Cuba to have helicopter service. We’re actually exporting our skills to other operators,” he said.
An airborne service for tourists in Cuba would require not only a fleet of choppers, but also pilots, technicians, maintenance people on the ground. Mr. Doyle explained that the intention is to train pilots and technicians in Cuba, which would also create jobs. “I want to be here, to grow here, not to be seen as an outside company that comes to do business. Our main base would be here, in Havana. Once we get the permission, everything will start rolling.”
As far as the fleet is concerned, White Star Aviation has to see what the market holds and then it would grow as the demand needs. Mr. Doyle said that depending on the permissions, the company can get an established tourist flight and the short itinerary would be the most popular because it’s quick. People coming in cruise ships, for example, would have the heliport near the cruise terminal.
The company is ready to provide VIP service with modern-design helicopters for 5 to 6 people and they can travel anywhere in complete comfort. With Cuba’s plans to turn the island into a prime golf destination in the Caribbean, guests could play golf in different courses, flying anywhere and back within the same day.
“We have to establish here and get everything done correctly. I know it will take time, but once everything is done correctly and we have the approval from the authorities, we’ll slowly move across the whole island. I want to have the same fleet. There are 185 helicopters in Mexico, 3 in the Cayman Islands, and 30 in the Dominican Republic,” he explained.
The helicopters to be used by White Star Aviation for the tourism market have 7 to 8 seats. The configuration includes four seats in the back, two in the front and the pilot. But once the company gets the go-ahead to be established on the island nation, it could bring in the 8-seat helicopters, broken down in three seats in the front, the pilot and four rear seats.