Pedro Agustín del Castillo Machado is a diffident Canarian celebrity, with whom we have been waiting a long time to talk. It was well worth while!
- Born in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a businessman from a business family and descendent of the Count of Vega Grande, he studied Economics at Madrid University, specialising in business studies. Both his teenage children seem to have also inherited the business bug. The family businesses began in agriculture, going into tourism early with the ‘boom’ of the 1960’s, and have continued to diversify. With so many businesses to oversee, does he find time for his family? “Yes, it’s all a case of organising yourself, there is time for everything.”
This astute businessman has his fingers in various pies, a family agricultural export firm, an alternative energy company and an environment-award winning water company, which occupies most of his time. But perhaps the jewel in his corporate crown is the baby of the family Binter Canarias.
This first and largest of the Canarian regional airlines was begun in 1988 by Iberia, but the period of most expansion and most service began when it was taken over in July 2002 by Hesperia Inversiones Aéreas, 100 per cent Canarian owned, with del Castillo at the helm as President.
Last year Binter organised 49,000 flights and a total of more than 3,300,000 places with their 16 planes. The service will improve even further when the six new planes that have been ordered come on line between May this year and February 2005. Their president is extremely modest about their amazing success in the first eighteen months of business. On December 5th last year they had an all time record for passengers, attending to 10,100 people in one day. “We have more planes flying, it’s normal that we have increased the number of passengers. We have two more planes than two years ago which gives us an increase of 25 per cent on available seats and we always have a plane in reserve so we don’t leave people in the lurch.” He claims that they have not been affected by the new competition, who he estimates have somewhere around a seven per cent share of the total business.
The company are renewing their service to Funchal airport in Madeira from Easter, a short 75 minute hop, with the intention eventually of establishing a weekly scheduled service. Long term plans for flights to the African coast have not been discounted, but it won’t happen until at least 2006. “At the moment we are concentring on the renovation of the fleet and improving the quality of service. We have opened offices in all the airports, and the new ‘Binter Responde’ telephone service is available 24 hours a day as is our website of course.” They are also working on special fly drive deals with car companies, a reduction of the check in time at the airports to offer a kind of walk-on-walk-off service, improving the electronic ticket service, the installation of check in machines in the airports to make travelling as trouble free as possible for the passengers and more personalised service for regular customers. “It all takes time and the company is relatively new, but we’ve got great hopes that we will improve, especially in the area of customer service.”
To remarks that the inter island flights are expensive, the president answered that they are one of the cheapest of the regional airlines. “For example we are around 40 per cent cheaper than the Balearics,” and although fares are due to go up around two euros per flight, they haven’t increased since May 2002. They offer a free blood transportation service to the island’s hospitals and there are discounts for school groups and their teachers. A mini fare which offers a discount of between around ten and 24 euros is also available on a book ahead, no changes, no cancellations basis.
There have also been comments recently that the La Palma service is not always very regular but Josè Luis Reina, their communications officer confirmed, “Not all airlines have the same safety limits. If we don’t fly we are losing money. Of course we would prefer not to suspend the service, but clients must understand that if we decide not to take off, it is for their own safety.”
The ups and downs of other airlines due to various crises have not affected their business in the least, as a large part of their clients are people travelling for work and business, with an upturn in the weekend trip trade. In that respect del Castillo said he would like to see more tourist publicity between islands, and more tour operators offering for example two (or three) island-hop holidays, as they do in Greece for example. “The means are there. It could be that the smaller island’s tourist boards don’t run enough publicity with the larger islands. They go to international tourist fairs like FITUR and places like that, but they don’t do enough here to attract people to visit and that’s important. Maybe they should be looking not only at attracting English and German tourists, but at inter-island tourism as well. There should be more involvement between the larger and smaller islands.”
A gentleman born and bred, del Castillo speaks wistfully of “maybe doing some gardening” when he retires, which won’t be for a long time yet, “it’s just something that has always attracted me.” In the short and medium term for the company he wants to, “Make access between the island available to all Canarian residents, more movement between the islands and holidays, even if only for a weekend.” They are looking at the possibility of introducing special weekend returns.
If you are a resident in the islands and haven’t yet been out and about, or if you are a visitor and want to make the most of your long journey over, what are you waiting for? Every island is different - each has its own special beauty. Coming to the Canaries and only seeing one island, is like going to an art gallery and only seeing one painting. Del Castillo would agree, he maintained, “with our wider timetable, it is now perfectly viable to visit another island for a day trip!” From under 70 euros for non residents, (residents enjoy a 30 per cent discount), you can take off on any one of an average of 140 short flights a day, from just half an hour, connecting the islands.
For more information, contact Binter Responde on 902 391 392 or www.bintercanarias.es