Tiny East Timor has its first airline. Timor Air was launched yesterday and will operate daily flights between Dili, and Darwin in northern Australia.
The new airline is the initiative of businessman Jerry Desousa. He fled Timor-Leste after 1975 and eventually became a successful businessman with a property and maintenance firm, then returned to Timor.
Presenter: Bill Bainbridge
Speaker: Jerry Desousa, founder of Timor Air
Desousa: Yes it went fantastic, the President was very happy with the flight and the aircraft performed very well, and we got in time just to have a local media conference and then I had to hurry back because we had to get off very quickly, otherwise we would have to overnight there.
Bainbridge: And so why does East Timor need its own airline, I mean there are other airlines that fly there already, why does it need a national carrier?
Desousa: Because the other airlines that are flying there they're not Timorese airlines. Timor Air is essentially Timorese airline, it will carry the pride and the aspirations of the people that have been through so much. And it is of course will promote Timorese culture and the Timorese people and will encourage people like you Bill to visit East Timor and the experience the rich and very adaptable culture.
Bainbridge: So you're not doing this on your own, who are your partners in this venture?
Desousa: I am a partner with Vincent Aviation, a very dynamic, young but very forward looking airline that is based both in Wellington, New Zealand, and in Darwin.
Bainbridge: And so you said you wanted people like me to come and visit Timor, who are you actually aiming at mainly; tourists or business travellers or both?
Desousa: Anybody who comes to Timor will spend money there to help the people all over the country. And obviously we would like to promote the tourism and the government of Timor Leste is very keen and as the President said in his speech at the launch, he's aiming at the Timorese ex-pat in Darwin and other places in Australia to go back. Right now the price is very prohibitive and they don't just go there as is because it costs.
Bainbridge: But when other people have tried to get airlines or flights off the ground from say between Timor and Denpasar, the existing carriers have cut their prices pretty dramatically and driven them off the island. Are you prepared if there's a price war, do you have the funds to keep going through that?
Desousa: Well I'm not contemplating that Bill, but this is the reality of business. Naturally I looked at it very carefully, we placed our trust with the people that flew. I think that they have for 11 years experience in expensive and very, very unfriendly hours to fly. So what I'm trying to do Bill is to introduce a more civilised hour of flying and of course more friendly, and more importantly of course it is the image of East Timor. So you make up your mind, I mean if there was going to be we charge the same then who would you prefer to fly? And the other thing is I'm trying also to make sure that Timorese people knows how to fix aircraft, and maybe at some stage also flying. Right now we don't have anybody, there's an airline that flew to Timor now for 11 years, not one Timorese employed in the industry.
Bainbridge: But there is a very large operation being put together currently with Portuguese and money from the Gulf. Do you think you're going to be able to compete with that outfit when it's up and running?
Desousa: Well Bill I would like to see it first. It has taken me nine years Bill to put this little one together, so there is so many people in Timor that wants to put an airline together, it's nothing wrong to have business, Timorese people to do things. But doing it is another thing altogether.
Bainbridge: Ok and just very briefly at the moment you're only flying to Australia. Do you have plans in the short-term of expanding your services to other destinations?
Desousa: Absolutely, absolutely.