AIRPORT--After several years of having to do without jet service between Curaçao and St. Maarten, travellers can make use of direct and fast flights between the islands with Insel Air as of January 5th, 2007.
The airline executed its inaugural flight Wednesday. Destinations like Haiti and the Dominican Republic will be added to the itinerary shortly.
The event was a sober one, without the usual welcome speeches and the spraying of the aircraft with water, but the faces of the more than 150 invited guests who arrived on the first flight from Curaçao were nonetheless happy. Flown by former Dutch Caribbean Airlines (DCA) pilot Captain Robert Page and co-pilot Gerhaut Schore, the 167-seat MD-83 aircraft landed at Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) around noon.
The guests, including Finance Minister Ersilia de Lannooy, Curaçao Island Council member Dennis Evertsz, former minister Kenneth Gijsbertha and ABVO union leader Stanley Ignacio, were greeted on arrival by Princess Juliana International Airport operating company PJIAE President Eugene Holiday.
The local media, along with Minister of Constitutional Affairs Roland Duncan, Windward Islands Airways International (Winair) Chairman Fernando William and Winair Managing Director Edwin Hodge went on board for a tour around St. Maarten. Flight 7-I-504 subsequently passed Anguilla, Saba and St. Eustatius. The aircraft returned to Curaçao around 5:00pm.
The aircraft, which was flown over from Europe Saturday, has the name Curaçao on it and shortly the Curaçao flag will be painted on the tail. However, Insel Air is not solely a Curaçao affair. To the contrary, said Insel Air Director Edward Heerenveen. “We believe in cooperation,” he said, explaining the relationship with Winair.
Insel Air also has signed a similar cooperation agreement with Suriname Airways and there are plans to sign more interline agreements early next year, said Heerenveen at a press conference after the flight.
“It has been a while since we had jet service between Curaçao and St. Maarten,” said Winair’s Hodge, noting that “not much traffic had been generated” on the route in recent years, a route dominated until now by Dutch Antilles Express (DAE).
Hodge said many people had complained about the “long” flying time of DAE’s propeller plane, which takes some two hours. Insel Air flies the same route in a little over an hour. “It is a natural thing: people when going from A to B want to reach their destination within the shortest possible time,” Hodge said.
As Insel Air’s partner Winair will do the ground and passenger handling. It will also do route sharing with possibilities to book straight through from and to Winair’s destinations. Luggage will also be carried straight through. Haiti, Santo Domingo
Hodge announced joint plans to fly St. Maarten-Haiti-St. Maarten and St. Maarten-Santo Domingo-St. Maarten. There is no definite date yet to fly these routes, said Heerenveen. He said that after the landing rights had been secured and the proper promotion had taken place, also with the help of Winair, Insel Air would start flying to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. He said the fares would be a lot lower than those charged by airlines now flying to those destinations.
Insel Air will also fly to Suriname and Trinidad as of January 17 and 16 respectively. The airline is planning to obtain its next MD-82 or -83 aircraft between March and May next year to be able to service the US route. As for the noise of the aircraft, he said the engines were stage 3 and, because they were relatively new, they were quieter.
Heerenveen said he was convinced there was enough traffic between Curaçao and St. Maarten to transport. “With DCA and ALM, there was quite a number travelling. Why are they not travelling anymore? They stopped flying for a reason,” he said. He mentioned high fares, uncomfortable long flights and lack of confidence. He said Insel Air would take care of all those factors with its fast, cheap flights. He said people also knew this product from the past. Lower fares
Heerenveen said fares between Curaçao and St. Maarten were now too high, with the most expensive seats going for more than NAf. 700. He promised a promotional fare of NAf. 399 round trip for now, and after that a maximum price of NAf. 550. He bet that DAE would start a court case to stop Insel Air. But, he added, “We now have our own aircraft and nothing can stop us.”
Minister Duncan said he was “very happy” with Insel Air, especially where it concerned the cooperation with Winair, of which he is shareholder’s representative.
“It was something that Winair had to join. Winair had to get out of the bunker so it could increase operations and revenue,” he said. Winair, he added, has been through some rough times and with the shareholder, the Central Government, not being able to invest in Winair, the airline has to seek other ways to grow. (Suzanne Koelega)
Printed in The Daily Herald, December 28th, 2006.
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