According to R.E.G. Davies in his Airlines of Latin America Since 1919, the first incarnation of Air Jamaica was founded on August 27, 1963, after the government of Jamaica decided not to invest in British West Indian Airways (BWIA). Dubbed Jamaica Air Service Ltd., its shareholders were the government of Jamaica (51 percent), the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), and BWIA (16 percent). BWIA′s employees in Jamaica were transferred to the new airline. Service to Miami and New York began on May 1, 1966.
BOAC, Britain's major international airline at the time, and BWIA had continued to maintain the leased aircraft (this operating arrangement would not expire until the end of May 1969). The Jamaican government preferred a more independent approach and eventually prepared to establish a new company, Air Jamaica (1968) Ltd.
Air Jamaica was established in October 1968 and started operations on April 1, 1969, connecting Kingston (KIN) and Montego Bay (MBJ), with New York (JFK) and Miami (MIA). At that time the Jamaican government owned a substantial part of the airline, with Air Canada owning a minority share (40 percent) and providing aircraft (one Douglas DC-8-61 and three McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 jetliners), pilots, technical, maintenance and logistical help.
During the 1970s Air Jamaica expanded rapidly. Flights were added to Toronto (YYZ) and Montreal (YUL) in Canada, to Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) in Puerto Rico, to Philadelphia (PHL) and many other destinations, especially across the Caribbean. Long-haul services to Europe were started on 1 April 1974. Air Jamaica used a Douglas DC-8 and three DC-9s for a large part of the 1970s, but the Boeing 727-200 became part of the fleet toward the end of the decade when the government bought out Air Canada's share. During the 1980s, growth slowed. New routes were opened to Baltimore (BWI) and Atlanta (ATL).