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Surinam Airways – ‘Trusted Wings’

For 55 years now, Surinam Airways has given the nation wings, both internally and overseas. As Suriname’s national airline, the company has grown from a modest concept into the proud flag carrier for the country’s transport and trade. Whilst they celebrate their 55-year anniversary, we caught up with Surinam Airways to see whether this journey has been smooth flying, or whether there has been any turbulence along the way.

Surinam Airways is a part of the Surinaamse Luchtvaart Maatschappij (SML) Group – a government body that takes care of all things aviation. They state their mission as: “To be an innovative, product-oriented organization where honourable, empowered, and loyal staff provide customers with our Surinamese hospitality.” It is a simple, focused goal that carries an ethos of excellence into every aspect of the company’s operations, not only in the provision of their air services, but also in their support of the nation’s communities and the sharing of their success.

Surinam Airways have been in operation for longer than modern Suriname has enjoyed its independence. When they were founded, the nation was under Dutch rule, only attaining freedom in 1975. Like many early years of independence, the change led to a politically rocky and socially turbulent time. However, the split from the Dutch government was remarkably amicable, with supportive aid provided for the Surinamese economy whilst it found its feet in the first ten years.

The Dutch also had a hand in the forming of Surinam Airways, but it was an enterprise dreamt up and made possible through Surinamese ambition. The origins for the company were born out of a plan made by local pilot Ronald ‘Rudi’ Kappel and owner of Surname’s 7Up factory, Herman van Eyck. The two entrepreneurs wanted to create faster connections between Surinamese cities, no longer content with the limits of train transportation. In 1955, the pair took matters into their own hands and began using private aircraft to connect between Paramaribo, the country’s capital, and Moengo, site of the country’s first bauxite mine. This aid to industry continued for seven years, until in the summer of 1962, the Government of Surinam bought out the enterprise and re-named it the Surinaamse Luchtvaart Maatschappij (SLM).

Following the creation of SLM, the Surinamese Government decided to build upon what Kappel and Eyck had started by adding a high number of official flight paths and landing areas that opened up the centre of the country. The company also invested in several Bell 47G helicopters – a model also used for irrigation in several rice districts. Two years later, the airline went beyond internal flights and began to operate internationally. This was initiated by the Dutch, with the first international location being the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao. This flight path was maintained through an agreement between SLM and Dutch companies ALM Antillean Airlines and Royal Dutch Airlines. The route also had stops in Georgetown, Guyana and Port of Spain, Trinidad, which both needed manning. Originally, SLM’s involvement in this cooperative effort was limited to providing cabin crew and marketing activities, but as time passed, this involvement grew to include pilots.

In November 1975, Suriname finally achieved independence from the Netherlands and SLM was named the national airport for the new republic. In the years since, the airline has expanded its destinations and, of course, its fleet numbers. Still going strong today, Surinam Aviation have recently invested in several new aircraft and maintain their reputation as a reliable and worthy National Carrier for the country.

SLM are committed to conducting their operations safely and efficiently, which they accomplish by following the highest standards of quality, safety and security in all administrative, operational and technical processes across the board. This careful adherence to regulations and SLM’s own high standards is achieved through constant training for all employees geared towards their personal roles within the team, to make sure that everyone performs to the very best of their ability. This training also allows SLM to promote their culture of conscientiousness and a proud work ethic. Achievements from staff are well rewarded, whilst errors are treated as an opportunity to learn and grow.

The great care that is taken in the training and support of staff goes beyond Surinam Airways to extend to all employees under the SLM umbrella. Whilst the two are often seen as synonymous, people forget that Surinam Airways is only one facet of the SLM Group as a whole; as well providing airline services themselves, SLM has every aspect of the flight experience covered by its subsidiaries, including Surair Catering Services, Surair Ground Services, Surair Aircargo Services and Residence Inn Hotels. Unlike the government-owned SLM, the group’s subsidiaries are independent Surinamese businesses, which allows them more freedom to operate with flexibility and, importantly, to respond quickly to market developments. However, SLM ultimately oversees the operation of these subsidiaries, determining their growth strategy and watching over their progress – through them, the government serve as a ground control hub, but the companies themselves are their own pilots.

As well as holding a responsibility towards their subsidiaries and carrying the country’s aviation on their shoulders, Surinaamse Luchtvaart Maatschappij know that their duty extends to the entire people of Suriname. They contribute to the country’s economy not only through the provision of jobs, but the smooth delivery of trade and tourism. On top of this, they also respect their duty to the environment and the wider world: in their own words, they say, “We attach a lot of importance to sustainable development, originating from a clear awareness that we as a company are jointly responsible for humankind and environment on a broad basis.” Their corporate responsibility policy calls for a steady balance between “the Three P’s of Profit, People and Planet”. Their efforts include sponsorship to various community initiatives in the country, getting involved in the arenas of education, sport, health, culture, environment and entertainment. They are also currently working closely with the Suriname Conservation Foundation (SCF), which dedicates itself to protecting biodiversity in Suriname. In particular, the foundation works in protected areas, and aim to improve the well-being of future generations by working to limit and respond to environmental risks and ecological shortages caused by present actions.

It is clear that SLM are not a company that are only operating for themselves, nor only in the interest of the government. They do not even limit themselves to caring for the country’s aviation needs, but instead, by extension, the needs of the whole nation. From business to the environment to social support, SLM are working to deliver Suriname into a stronger, better future, and they are taking them there on a carefully chartered course.