From left: Brian Mingo (PJIA); V. Oedjaghir (Airport EUX); M. Van der Scheer (Airport Bonaire); Edison Rijna (Lt. Governor of Bonaire); B. Gijsbers (Dutch Ministry Infrastructure and Water Management; J. Meijs (Airport AUA); M. Hassell (Airport Saba); D. Oduber (Minister of Tourism AUA); Minister Omar Ottley; U. Arends (Minister of Transport AUA); and J. Andersen (Airport Curaçao).
PHILIPSBURG--Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Omar Ottley was among fifteen dignitaries from the six Dutch islands and the Netherlands to commit to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to lower the cost of travel between the islands.
The six islands committed to forming a joint strategic plan (JSP) “task force” within 30 days, which will be mandated to identify and address the factors affecting inter-island air travel, as part of the MOU.
Brian Mingo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport Operating Company (PJIAE), will serve as a member of the Steering Committee and Action Group which was created to work on a joint business plan, which will be delivered within seven months of the MOU signing.
The MOU, to work on reducing the cost of airlifts in the ACS islands Aruba. Curacao and St. Maarten, and the BES islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, was signed in Aruba.
“It symbolises the unification of government and non-government entities involved in public air transport under one umbrella to improve and sustain each of these islands’ inter-island air transport systems,” according to a press release on Monday. “Aviation authorities anticipate that once the cost of travel between St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire is reduced, leisure travel will return to an all-time high.”
The Dutch Caribbean Cooperation of Airports (DCCA) initiated this MOU to face and resolve the inter-island connectivity issues jointly and to maximise cooperation between the ACS and BES aviation authorities and agencies. The overall concern is that the cost of airlifts between the islands has skyrocketed, resulting in leisure travel being brought to a 10-year low.
Factors such as increased airport fees, fuel cost and insufficient airlift options are some contributors to inter-island-travel’s high price. These concerns have prompted DCCA to introduce and launch the first electric flight in the Caribbean in Aruba on November 6, as the organisation looks towards sustainable alternatives to travel that also contribute to lowering the carbon footprint.
“We must recognise that the family ties that bind these islands will be stretched and even broken if inter-island travel costs continue on the present trend. It is no secret that traveling from St. Maarten to St. Eustatius, Curaçao, or Aruba costs more than it does to the US.
“I will do everything possible to change this so people can return to leisure travel and stay connected with friends and family. We cannot continue to see 15-minute flights to neighbouring islands that were NAf. 65 not so long ago, now reaching US$350 and more,” Ottley said.
He maintains that while the DCCA is on the right path, travel cost adjustments should not stop within the Dutch Caribbean islands.
“We benefit from visitor arrivals, and tourists have always loved coming to St. Maarten. We must consider initiatives such as US pre-clearance to attract domestic rates for travel to and from the US and strengthen cooperation with regional airlines for travel to the British Islands. The idea here is to make the flying between the islands, for everyone, better and affordable.
“Looking at the electric planes of the near future will also make it even cheaper. We need to do something, and this is the first step. Now the actions,” he said.