British Airways and Virgin Atlantic still interested to service St. Maarten

POSTED: 11/18/14 12:12 AM

St. Maarten – British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are among airlines still considering service to the Princess Juliana International Airport for a double stop as they prepare their schedules for 2015. This was disclosed following the recent World Routes Conference in Chicago.

A St. Maarten delegation attended the conference. The delegation included Ludwig Ouenniche, head of the cabinet at Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication, the airport’s managing director Regina Labega and Louis Halley, head of the St. Maarten Civil Aviation Authority.

British Airways representatives, William Parker and Tony Buss indicated that there is still great interest in a London, Gatwick – SXM service, which the company is looking at as part of a double stop with another destination. Following earlier discussions, they are now exploring the opportunities for the winter 2015 schedule. Given the high frequency of service to Antigua, service to St. Maarten would most probably be tagged to one of their existing flights, the airline’s representatives explained.

Similarly, Virgin Atlantic is considering St. Maarten for a possible double stop. The airline currently flies to Barbados, Grenada, Tobago, and Antigua. Operating its Caribbean services with the Airbus 330, offers the markets more premium cabins.

The pledged support of the Air Service Development Committee (ASDC) members, the hub partners of St. Maarten, was seen as a strong factor in the airport’s presentation to the airline. Virgin has listed St. Maarten for possible consideration in its 2015 – 2016 schedule.

The airlines explained that route decisions are solely based on profitability and not necessarily on political or historical ties with the markets they serve. Moreover, they indicated that there is a need to stimulate market awareness.

Yachting in St. Maarten offers great potential for UK visitors, especially given the presence of Windjammer and Star Clipper on the island.

Southwest Airlines said that its focus is on the development and growth of its Houston, Fort Lauderdale and Baltimore hubs, following the merger with Air Tran. However, it said it was still very much interested in starting service to St. Maarten, which is likely to happen in 2016 (BWI) and FLL in 2017, once its international terminal is up and running.

For its part, Delta Airlines expressed satisfaction with the performance of its Atlanta and New York, JFK services and is set to file for a Minneapolis service, for the period February through March, using a B757 aircraft. Minneapolis serves as one of the carrier’s hubs, thus the interest in pursuing new route opportunities.

The carrier is looking at the possibility for joint promotions, in an effort to push low season and fall travel. DL Vacations is handling and coordinating these efforts. It was agreed that filling seats in March and December was not a problem, but other months definitely needed a push. Travelers in the North Mid-West of the US always look for sun destinations when traveling, so this presents great possibilities for markets like St. Maarten.

Copa Airlines is another carrier that is planning to expand service to the island. Given its current performance, the airline is studying the possibilities of daily service. A fifth frequency will begin in December. The airline will closely monitor how the market responds to this. In talks with the carrier, it was agreed that retiming of the flight is not recommended, as the current schedule offers connectivity to South America, including Colombia. Retiming would result in misconnections. The carrier also stressed the need for joint marketing efforts to stretch the season.

The St. Maarten delegation held talks with United Airlines, WestJet, and Air Canada all of which currently service St. Maarten. The most promising discussions were with Sun Wing, which will start an Ottawa – St. Maarten service from December 14 through April 2015, using a B737-800 aircraft.

While the airline offers charter flights and packages at present to Montego Bay, Kingston, Punta Cana, and the Bahamas, it must be mentioned that St. Maarten offers a balance for summer travel. Sunwing’s representative emphasized the need for joint marketing efforts.

Finnair is exploring a charter service from Helsinki, given its great interest in the St. Maarten market. Currently operating out of Miami, the carrier has a partnership with Thomas Cook. Using the Airbus A330 and A340, Finnair offers a two-class service on its flights.

“All these talks were quite encouraging in terms of increasing airlift to St. Maarten,” Regina Labega noted. “The emphasis on joint marketing efforts by practically all the airlines means that as a destination, we must find a way to make the necessary financial allocations for this, if we want to continue to be competitive.”

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