ST EUSTATIUS–Member of the Island Council for the Democratic Party (DP) of St. Eustatius Koos Sneek has reacted with “utter dismay” at the news that Windward Islands Airways International Winair has backed out of its agreement to service the proposed Caribbean Netherlands (CN) Express air link to connect Statia with Bonaire and Saba.
“The decision has all the hallmarks of political interference and shows once again that the loyalty of Winair lies in St. Maarten and not with its passengers,” Sneek said. “I am confident that I speak for all the members of the Island Council in expressing our disappointment at this loss of airlift connectivity with the rest of the Dutch Caribbean,” said Sneek. “For many years, all party-political efforts to secure a more successful future for air connections with our partner islands have been sunk by the very monopoly of air and runway that Winair and Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) control”
Sneek said the Dutch Government has “rightly” subsidized public transportation in the Netherlands. “Their financial support is appreciated by isolated communities that rely on ferry services to, for example, the Wadden Islands and on provincial bus services. Their willingness to support the Historical Gem is much appreciated.”
According to the Councilman, Winair has a long record of not living up to their responsibilities for passengers. “Their short 18-minute hop between St. Maarten and Statia is the most expensive scheduled flight in the world. Their appreciation is measured in reduced frequency of flights, increased fares and obstruction when it comes to the future development of tourism on our island.”
Sneek said the CN Express link via Bonaire to Colombia would have been extremely useful for medical patients. “But Winair appears to be more interested in helping political friends than in medical health.” Sneek points out that in the past, Winair and the Government of St. Maarten were opposed to, or tried to frustrate air connections to and from Statia. “One failed air connection involved Puerto Rico, another concerned an airline from the British Virgin Islands and more recently, they even tried to block the air-ambulance helicopter service.”
Recently a group of private foreign investors have been looking into investment opportunities not only at the airport location and facilities but also in setting up new air links, said Sneek. “The market decides and Winair must decide for its customers. In the end, political interference will serve neither the best interests of PHA nor the transportation needs of people on Bonaire, Statia and Saba.”
He said the loss of air-link connectivity with Bonaire is particularly regrettable. “KLM has low-cost flights from Bonaire to Amsterdam without the untimely, expensive and often overnight connections via St. Maarten. Winair was founded on the need to communicate with the immediate islands of the Dutch Caribbean.”
Sneek is not alone in his dismay. Earlier this week, operator of The Old Gin House grand inn and restaurant Sybolt Ten Hoopen said in The Daily Herald he was optimistic about the tourism prospects for 2018.
“This decision literally flies against all reason and right for Statia to develop its own sustainable tourism,” lbn Hoopen said Friday. “At a time when the airport of St. Maarten is crippled by the aftermath of Irma, St. Eustatius is still subject to the transport culture of yesterday. We need to visualize the exciting future for air transportation and tourism in the region, move on and all interests will benefit.”
Sneek agrees: “While the Netherlands is offering a helping hand to St. Maarten with more than half a billion U.S. dollars in hurricane recovery aid, it appears that St. Maarten is not willing to support their sister island — part of the same Netherlands with better air-connectivity.” Numerous attempts to reach Winair for comment remained unsuccessful.
The Daily Herald