Female-owned airline celebrates second anniversary Plans to add Brazil, Canada to its destinations
By Esther Elijah
November 16, 2003
`Universal Airlines is what you see - myself and my partner. We are not fronting this company. This company is owned and operated...by two women' - Ms Chandrawattie Harpaul, UA co- owner
`Universal Airlines has as one of its main objectives to make Guyana the hub from which we can extend our destination to the south of the border to Brazil and increase our destinations within the Caribbean.' - Harribhajan Persaud, UA Senior Vice President
ONE of two Guyanese women who created history becoming the first women to own an international airline advises any woman considering such giant leaps in their life, to pursue their dreams, and, in so doing, help others.
Ms Chandrawattie Harpaul, and her sister, Ramashree Singh, former residents of Mortice, Mahaicony, took on the colossal challenge of creating Universal Airlines (UA) in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a period when the airline industry in the United States was in a state of crisis and uncertainty.
UA had its inaugural flight on December 12, 2001. The aircraft has a seating capacity of 16-business class and 444 economy class.
UA currently flies a wide body Boeing 767-300ER serving Guyana, the Caribbean and North America. The airline has six weekly scheduled flights that include destinations Georgetown, New York, Port-of-Spain, St. Kitts, Suriname and Fort Lauderdale.
UA will soon be adding Canada and Brazil to its destinations.
"Universal Airlines is what you see - myself and my partner. We are not fronting this company. This company is owned and operated...by two women," Harpaul told guests at an awards ceremony and dinner in celebration of Universal Airline's second anniversary, hosted Thursday at the Georgetown Club.
"Universal Airlines is not just my airline or my partners' airline - it belongs to the entire Guyanese nation," she remarked.
Away from the buzzing crowd, in a brief interview with Sunday Chronicle, Harpaul admitted that being at the helm of a successful company is "extremely difficult."
"It has been extremely difficult not just as a woman, but as an aviation person, on the whole - the industry being what it is right now. What is more difficult is staying in the business."
She said UA has had its "fair share of difficulties. But, with the help of the supporters we're making it."
Harpaul - a mother of four - and her sister, are currently based in Long Island, NY.
Asked how she juggles her personal life and family with the fulltime operation of an airline, Harpaul answered, "Not very well."
"I have four kids - three girls and one boy - the eldest being age 18 and the youngest, age 11."
"It's very hard. It takes a lot of planning, a lot of support and hopefully it's getting better," she said smiling.
Harpaul, the Chief Executive Officer and Chairwoman of Universal Airlines, offered heartfelt thanks to her supporters stating that the fact that UA is compared to its 60-year-old competitor, BWIA is quite an "accomplishment."
She said UA does not have financial backing from the government of Guyana although it has "backing in other forms."
Harpaul told this newspaper that women who desire to enter into major business must first realise, "it's extremely difficult" but she offered that they should pursue the dream, "if it's something that you really want to do and it's something that you believe in, something that can help others."
"Our airlines really help Guyanese because before we came there was not a good airline to service Guyana. We were treated as second-class citizens. Because of that we came into being. We believe in what we're doing and we're doing as much as we can for the Guyanese people," Harpaul said.
"We do a lot (for charitable organisations) and we wish we could do more. The better we do is the more we would be able to do for people. That has been our motivation, really - to provide a good service so that Guyanese may be proud to be associated with (UA)."
Harpaul said she obtained private finance and investment to start Universal Airlines.
She explained that the process of obtaining private funding took 14 years.
"The two women in the company are actually the backbone of (it). We started it, own it and operate it on a daily basis."
Harpaul said the airline gets support from overseas-based and local Guyanese.
"We are a Guyanese company and for some reason Guyanese do not know that."
Mr. Sudarshan Singh, husband of Ramashree Singh, serves as the President of UA.
He is a maintenance engineer by profession, acutely aware of the workings of the aviation business. He and his wife have three children, two boys and one girl, all teenagers.
Harpaul left her homeland for life in New York about 22 years ago. Her father died in an accident when she was an infant.
Harpaul is the youngest of three sisters; the other two are also based in NY. Her only brother lives in Florida.
Like her mother, also living in NY, Harpaul served as a teacher at the Mortice Primary School, in Mahaicony.
Several of the family members have gained employment in NY with the sisters. Staff of UA are 100 per cent Guyanese.
"Universal Airlines came at a time when flying the friendly sky became flying the frightening sky...A lady came to our office in NY with tears in her eyes and she said to me, "I'll only fly with Universal if (it) is going to the destination I'm going." I (asked her), `Why do you say that?"
"(The woman explained) that she had an ill husband and she'd travelled (with other airlines) but none was as helpful as (my) attendants. (The woman said) they physically lifted her husband and took him to the washroom, helped him and brought him back to his seat."
Harpaul urged greater support for UA and said the company is working to bring its customers better service to future destinations: Canada, Brazil and Haiti.
Mr. Harribhajan Persaud, Senior Vice President of Universal Airlines, who spoke at the function Thursday evening, said the past year has not been easy.
He added, though, that with persistence, perseverance and hard work the airline has been able to overcome the challenges, and has emerged as a "Guyanese airline that provides an excellent service, comfort and is within the reach of the public."
UA offers weekly flights to NY, but during peak season it can offer as much as seven or eight flights, per week. The airline is certified as a United States mail carrier to Paramaribo, Port-of-Spain and Georgetown.
Persaud said the company has a policy of not biting off more than it can chew.
"Universal Airlines has as one of its main objectives to make Guyana the hub from which we can extend our destination to the south of the border to Brazil and increase our destinations within the Caribbean."
Universal Airlines, on Thursday evening, honoured several of its travel agents operating countrywide at a dinner and presentation ceremony. Overseas-based agents, along with First Lady Varshnie Jagdeo, Prime Minister Sam Hinds and his wife, Yvonne, People's National Congress (PNC/R) Opposition Leader, Robert Corbin, Raphael Trotman, Chief Justice Desiree Bernard, Ministers of Government, Members of the diplomatic and business community, were also in attendance at the function.
Muneshwar Travel Service emerged as the top agent for outstanding support/sales for UA during 2002 and 2003. Among the other travel agencies that were awarded was C. Sookraj and Sons from Berbice, Air Express, Global Travel Service, Jim Bacchus Travel Service, Frandec Travel Service and Blue Skies Travel Service.
UA also used the opportunity to launch its Frequent Flyer programme (UNI-MILES).
UNI-MILES is specially designed for passenger loyalty and commitment to Universal Airlines. It honours travellers by providing them with free tickets to various destinations. Points earned in the programme can be used to upgrade a passenger to Business Class.
Passengers entitled to free travel must complete an application form and submit it to any Universal Airlines Inc. office. Upon receipt of the application, the passenger account will be credited with 1000 bonus points as a `Thank You' for choosing UA.