Our Community - La Isla Bonita

Johnny and Powder preparing to do a pre-flight check

About 20 years ago, an occasional plane that flew above the island of San Pedro caused great curiosity and a commotion among the islanders, especially the children. An aircraft flying over the island was an oddity.

Today, the sounds of airplanes arriving and departing from San Pedro are of no amazement to San Pedranos. Residents just turn up the volume of the television as the planes soar over the town; and turn down the volume after the plane has passed. A subconscious ritual that does not seem to bother anyone. Why would it? It seems that the heart of San Pedro is located at the airstrip; its veins, the air routes that the plane travel. A commodity that is such a great part of the everyday hustle and bustle in San Pedro. The San Pedro airstrip is probably on its way toward "international airport" status. Maybe, who knows?

It was a man with a vision who first landed a plane on the island. One plane that changed the future of Ambergris Caye. That man is no other than John (Johnny) Greif.

The year was 1979 when Tropic Air started its charter operations from Belize City to San Pedro. The office was based in San Pedro and the business operated only on chartered flights and no schedules.

"I saw a lot of potential in San Pedro as a tourism center, even though there was little tourism back then," said Johnny. "I got a lot of support from my family and I was not going to live in the city."

So after running the business as an airplane charter service, Tropic Air climbed one step further in its growth. The business acquired a five-passenger plane which increased the number of chartered flights already in service. Jumping another year ahead, Tropic purchased a Cessna 207. Shortly after, Johnny took a giant leap that placed Tropic Air where it is today.

"I took a chance and got my schedule license," said Johnny. For months after scheduling flights, Johnny saw that profits were plummeting and that the business was losing more than making a profit. "It was hard times that the business had to go through in order to grow. It was a big step that I made, but I figured that I could handle it."

Profits slowly started increasing as Tropic upheld a reputation for good service and accountability. Johnny then saw fit to build a terminal building here in San Pedro out of cash flow. Soon a scheduled flight to the Phillip Goldson International Airport was added to the regular schedule. Prior to the scheduled flight to the international airport, people had to charter a plane and that was quite expensive according to Johnny.

Under Johnny's excellent management, Tropic Air flourished for the following years. In 1988 Tropic brought the first jetprop plane into the country. The plane was the 19-seater Twin Otter. At this point in time, Johnny explained that Continental and Pan American Airlines started their service in Belize. Tropic Air saw a dramatic growth in business. Flights from the international airport meant the increase of tourism on the island and a lot more people commuting to and from Belize. Before long, Tropic was operating with four Twin Otter planes (19-seater), two 207's (six-seater) and one 172 (three-seater), dramatically increasing business for both itself and the businesses in San Pedro.

Another factor that led to the huge growth of Tropic was the scheduling of hourly flights from San Pedro to Municipal Airstrip in Belize City.

"This posed a great convenience to the people on the island, as well as people from the city," said Johnny. "People have based their jobs and personal schedules around our daily flights."

This has definitely changed the way people do business on the island. Even businesses in Belize City and around the country have adapted to the airline's convenient scheduled flights and dependability.

From 1979 to 1981, Johnny states that the business saw a steady growth, along with the ups and downs of a growing corporation. From 1981 to about 1990 was when he saw a dramatic increase in sales and prosperity for Tropic Air.

"Business slowed down a lot around this time," said Johnny. "With the Gulf War, fuel prices skyrocketed, and parts for the planes got really expensive. To top it all off it was also a time when tourism slowed down too."

In 1991, Tropic went a step further to increase their service. The company leased a Caravan, which is a single-propped plane that carries 14 passengers. The Caravan proposed an even greater advantage to Tropic and its loyal customers. The Caravan proved to be a faster, more economical and more comfortable plane. In 1994, Tropic bought its own new Caravan and between now and then, the Caravans have completely replaced the Twin Otters.

At present, Tropic air operates five Caravans, one six-seater and one three-seater. The planes are more than enough to accommodate more than 70 departures daily, serving every major city, town and village in Belize. The company has 85 employees country wide, 50 of them working in San Pedro, where the main operation center is located. San Pedro, being the center of operations, has the largest airstrip and the largest Tropic Air terminal building, plus a new Tropic cargo section.

Tropic Air has definitely proven to be one of the most prosperous businesses in San Pedro and the country. What does the future hold for Tropic Air? Well, now that the airline has grown domestically throughout the entire nation, it will be looking towards offering flights intra-regionally (to nearby bordering countries). Johnny also hopes to increase flights to Flores, Guatemala. Still quite a few years ahead, a possibility would be to acquire larger pressurized aircrafts that are much faster and fly at higher altitudes. They would be twice as fast and more complex.

It all started with one three-seater, 172 aircraft, a small hut serving as a terminal and the entrepreneurial dream of one man. Tropic Air flies the friendly skies of Belize with the youngest fleet of professional pilots, one of them the first woman pilot in Belize, excellent service and unquestionable dependency.

Our Community - La Isla Bonita

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