Wednesday , June 29 2022

Opinion: MORE FLIGHTS OF FANTASY FOR STATIA – CARE OF WINAIR

Winair’s decision to increase its airfares for a round trip to Statia literally flies in the face of sound business practice. It is a work of fiction and fantasy. This government owned company could have chosen a better day than April 1st to announce their hike.  Still, the people of Statia are being fooled by this not so ‘dependable airline’. Economy airfares to and from the Island will genuinely increase by USD 6.66 as per 15th April.

Companies throughout the world know that a decrease in demand for a product can be turned around by dropping the price. This holds true for bread, chocolate, Coca Cola and air tickets. It explains why airlines like Spirit and Jet Blue have carved out a profitable business for themselves by offering cheap tickets to put bums on seats. But not Winair. This fly-by-night enterprise has decided to turn demand theory on its head and parachute its ignorance into the wallets of hard-pressed consumers on Statia.

MONOPOLY

How can they do this? They can because Winair operates a virtual monopoly. Jet fuel prices are not rocketing but the airline thinks it can get away with hiking public transportation costs. Major shareholders are the St. Maarten as well as the Dutch kingdom Governments. Their overpaid politicians could not care a moment for a local island that is dependent on a sole airlift supplier. Their snouts are far too busy sniffing out the next business deal or offshore commission account. Nobody uses a Quill anymore to vote!

But instead of spreading their costs over all Winair routes, the company knows that it can get away with slamming the traveling public on its bread and butter route to Statia. It does so even in the knowledge that air ticket prices are on the decline throughout the world.

Other means of transport such as the Waterman ferry or swimming are either not predictable or not safe. But statements from the airline and airport sharks are more worrisome.

Let us examine some of the truths and lies behind these statements.

The company says that traffic plummeted by 3,567 passengers in 2013 compared to 2012. This is absolutely true. 50 years of safe flying has resulted in a crashing of passenger numbers over the last eight years. Since 2006, the airlift has lost about a third of its traffic. But as we have seen, loss of demand should lead to a drop in prices, not a hike.

So what is happening? The total cost of an air ticket has been made unaffordable. That is why passenger numbers have been plummeting. The flight from SXM to EUX must be the shortest yet most expensive flight in the Caribbean.  Even compared to other Winair routes, the cost of this eighteen minute hop is out of this world. Also out of this world are the airport taxes that have increased above the rate of inflation over the last eight years. Last year and despite a budget surplus, Commissioner Sneek slapped a 50 per cent increase on airport tax for Statia’s EUX. This was not helpful.

But the most horrendous tax hikes have come from Regina LaBega and her airport chums. As of 15th April, a single flight to the Historical Gem will cost USD 125. A third of this price is made up of St Maarten Airport below-the-belt screening fee (USD 10.91), over-the-top departure tax (USD 22) and laughable improvement fee (USD 5). It is nonsense that passengers to Statia are forced to pay more a less the same fees as those passengers boarding a large Jumbo Jet to Amsterdam or to wherever.

LaBega was a political appointee and has earned a reputation for fiddling with outrageous figures. Her latest figures include monstrous and costly USD 3 million pelican sculptures and multicolored flags. In addition to signing the right checks for the right marketing and construction companies, she has presided over a mass desertion of executive private jets to more friendly neighboring islands and a jet fuel shortage that was predictable but not unavoidable. Her expensive annual report is full of blah-blah and airport receipts from supposedly tax-free retail outlets have dwindled. Her improvement fee is a farce as witnessed by the Disneyland flight monitors that have born no resemblance to actual Winair flight arrival and departure times for the last three years. Even Colombus had more vision and direction.

How the airport managed to obtain a development bond for USD 120 million from the Central Bank for what and for whom, is anybody’s guess. But I am sure Theo Heyleger has the answer. He appointed her…

ISOLATION

It is therefore extremely ironical that Winair that was originally set up specifically to relieve the isolation of Saba and Statia has now achieved the opposite. Their airline community spirit was demonstrated a few years ago by dumping the airlift between Saba and Statia. That lengthy round trip via the SXM hub will now cost more than a cheap return from SXM to JFK.

Claiming that the population of the islands has become more overweight, Winair has reduced the maximum passenger capacity of its aircraft. But then the oversized label applies to Winair itself too. With five de Haviland twin otters, one state of the art ATR aircraft, a long list of failed routes and a CEO who earns a high-flying annual salary of USD 290,000, perhaps it is time for downsizing. Why not start at the top?

Winair has clearly not won me over. The airline assures us that it had communicated beforehand with Carlyle Tearr, the Island’s commissioner for airport and transportation affairs. It will be remembered that Carlyle Tearr was also appointed. He has a budget but was not elected.

His leadership skills were only illustrated recently after discussions with a representative from Eutel on the subject of the Saba Statia Cable Company.  Both companies are 100 percent government owned. Both companies have failed persistently to publish annual accounts as required by law (very much like Winair!) Furthermore, millions of dollars of public money have disappeared from this cable company now registered from a beach hotel bedroom in Bonaire. “Not for public consumption” said Tearr referring to the content of his discussions with Eutel.

I guess not but if it is not for public consumption by a public company, the suspicion lingers that it was for private enrichment…

So any solution in terms of an alternative airlift or routing from Tearr will therefore be as elusive as the whereabouts of flight MH370.

I know it is easier to voice criticism and to whine than propose positive solutions. However, the situation now demands public action to advance practical and decisive alternatives.  However, inaction from Tearr will result in only further price hikes later and disappointed voters sooner. Winair is clearly in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. The Dutch Government must also respond decisively. But will it?

James Russell

Ed. Saba News: read the article concerning Winair’s announcement here

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One comment

  1. Come on Statians, on Saba the our local government recently increased the departure tax by 100%. Not a single complaint from the residents!