~The Hague evaluating participation in airline~
Windward Airways International (Winair) has indeed approached the Dutch government for additional financial support during the coronavirus pandemic, but it this is primarily a matter for the St. Maarten government as the airline’s major shareholder. The Dutch government is evaluating whether its participation in Winair is still opportune.
Dutch caretaker Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Cora van Nieuwenhuizen stated this on Tuesday in response to written questions submitted by Members of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Aukje de Vries and Rudmer Heerema, both of the liberal democratic VVD party.
De Vries and Heerema sought clarity last month following reports in the media late May 2021 that Winair was negotiating with The Hague to secure a second loan. According to Winair, further financial support was needed for the airline to “rebuild its business and return to some degree of normalcy.”
The Dutch government on December 31, 2020, approved a US $3 million mortgage loan for Winair which is financial stress because of the severely reduced flight capacity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The loan was given at that time in order to safeguard the connections with St. Eustatius and Saba. The emergency financial support, which Winair needed to pay its main creditors and the salaries of the airline’s personnel, was provided ahead of a definite financing solution, stated Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen. Other than this loan, Winair has not received COVID-19 support from the Dutch government.
Members of Parliament (MPs) De Vries and Heerema had asked whether it was correct that Winair was again negotiating with the Netherlands for additional financial support. They further asked how the Dutch government, in case of a new loan, would secure, that the money was properly utilised, and whether again there would be security in the form of a collateral.
Van Nieuwenhuizen confirmed that Winair had submitted a (second) support request at the Dutch State. She explained that this request has been handled by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate EZK according to the existing “framework assessment support requests individual companies.”
The EZK project team reported in June 2021 that Winair had a financing need of “several million US Dollars.” But added the minister, “It is primarily up to the major shareholder St. Maarten to consider support.”
The minister added that “at this time support from the Netherlands was not up for discussion (yet).” She noted that because of the Dutch interest in securing the accessibility of Statia and Saba, The Hague would “keep an eye on things.”
The Netherlands has 10,000 shares (7.95 per cent) in Winair with a nominal value of US $560,000 which it acquired at no cost when the Netherlands Antilles was dismantled in October 2010. Winair’s hangar at the St. Maarten airport serves as collateral for the US $3 million mortgage loan issued late December 2020.
According to the minister, the book value of the hangar has been appraised at US $6 million and an executorial value of US $4.5 million. “That is why it is expected that if Winair would go bankrupt, the hangar will yield sufficient to repay the loan. In case Winair goes bankrupt, the input of the Dutch government might be necessary to make sure that Statia and Saba remain accessible,” she stated.
Winair is crucial in connecting St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba. “Winair is the only regular flight provider. If Winair would go bankrupt, there would be no scheduled flights (for the time being) to Statia and Saba, at the (very) most charters. That would put pressure on the accessibility of the Caribbean Netherlands,” Van Nieuwenhuizen stated.
Responding to the question of the MPs about the minister’s future vision with regard to the participation of the Dutch government in Winair, Van Nieuwenhuizen announced that she was currently evaluating the state’s participation in the airline.
“Based on this evaluation, we will look at whether this instrument is still the most suitable to safeguard the public interest of the accessibility of the Caribbean Netherlands,” stated the minister who promised to keep the Second Chamber informed when more was known later this year.
As for the ferry connection between St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba, another matter that the MPs enquired about, the minister announced that the tendering project for the ferry service had started and that by mid-August a selection should take place after which the tendering process can be concluded.
The pilot project, financed by the Netherlands, has suffered quite some delay because during the pandemic it was unclear when travelling would resume between the islands and it would become opportune to start the ferry service.
“Whether the ferry service can actually start is mainly dependent on finding an interested and suitable market party to exploit the ferry service. If the tendering trajectory goes well and a suitable candidate is presented, it is expected that the ferry service can start in November/December this year,” stated Van Nieuwenhuizen.
The Daily Herald.