An objective assessment has shown that Windward Islands Airways International Winair is in principle a healthy company, but the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic caused the airline to have financial problems.
Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Cora van Nieuwenhuizen and State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops stated this on Thursday in response to two sets of written questions, one by Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP), and the other by Members of Parliament (MPs) Chris van Dam and Mustafa Amhaouch, both of the Christian Democratic Party CDA.
The MPs had sought clarity early January 2021, after the announcement of Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen on December 31, 2020, that the Dutch government had decided to grant a US $3 million mortgage loan to Winair in order to keep the airline in the air during the current crisis.
Van Dam and Amhaouch asked about an underlying analysis, the conditions of the loan, Winair’s St. Maarten-Bonaire route and the guarantee of flights to Saba and St. Eustatius. Van Raak wanted to know how much members of Winair’s management team earned, and whether their salaries would be reduced.
Van Nieuwenhuizen and Knops explained that the decision to give Winair a loan was based on a request of St. Maarten’s Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and a political-social and business-economic assessment carried out at the request of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate policy EZK.
There are a number of conditions to the mortgage loan, the minister and state secretary noted. Winair may not pay bonuses, dividends or profits until the loan has been repaid. Also, the airline must fly at least twice daily on the route St. Maarten to Saba and St. Eustatius, and between St. Eustatius and Saba as soon as the COVID-19 travel restrictions have been eliminated. The airline must furthermore provide insight into its financial management, to the Dutch government.
Van Nieuwenhuizen and Knops reiterated that as a result of the travel restrictions due to the coronavirus crisis, the regular air connections between the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands have been disrupted.
“The island governors of Bonaire and Saba, and the government commissioner of St. Eustatius have indicated that they are very concerned about the consequences of this. The Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK considers it important that the islands remain well-connected in times of crisis, and for this reason has made funding available to safeguard the weekly flight between Bonaire and St. Eustatius.”
Several airlines were approached to carry out this flight, and only Winair was willing to do so. “The routes are not competing since no direct connection is offered between Bonaire and St. Eustatius. There are only flights with multiple transfers which are undoable due to the travel restrictions.”
Van Nieuwenhuizen and Knops pointed out that the Saba and Statia connection was not profitable due to the small scale. Without a mortgage loan, Winair would have had to request payment deferral, with as a result, a discontinuation of regular flights to Saba and Statia.
“With this loan, the accessibility of Saba and Statia has been secured in the short term. The Dutch government is looking at how to safeguard the accessibility in the middle-long term.” The Dutch government owns 7.95 per cent of the Winair shares. The country St. Maarten owns the remaining shares.
As for subsidising the route between St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba, the minister and state secretary clarified that, based on the advice of the Expert Group on Connectivity, a pilot was announced for a ferry connection between the three islands. “This pilot can be carried out as soon as the travel restrictions have been lifted. Government is monitoring the air connections in the Caribbean Netherlands.”
Responding to the written questions by MP Van Raak, Van Nieuwenhuizen and Knops reported that Winair’s Chief Executive Officer earned a salary of 169,000 euros in 2019. Details on the remunerations of the executive board are stated in the Annual Report Management State Participations that the Second Chamber receives every year.
A salary reduction for Winair’s management was not part of the conditions of the loan. The assessment that was carried out showed that in April 2020, Winair cut the salaries of the executive board and supervisory board by 25 per cent.
The Daily Herald.