Air dispute looming
An aviation dispute is looming between St Lucia and St Vincent over threats by St. Lucia to debar two Vincentian carriers from landing here if authorities in Kingstown continue to deny St Lucia registered CARICOM Airways permission to fly to St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Tourism Minister Allen Chastanet has issued an ultimatum to Vincentian authorities to resolve the impasse within a week or expect that both St. Vincent and the Grenadines Air and Mustique Airways will no longer be granted rights to fly to St. Lucia.
“I am unable to understand why it has taken nine weeks for Vincentian authorities to approve the application from the St Lucia registered carrier to fly there when it is the country’s tourism industry that stands to benefit,” Chastanet told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).
St Lucia has been seeking to develop a mini-hub out of its Hewanorra International Airport in the south to provide connections to the Windward Islands and Martinique.
Officials have said that the benefit of using St. Lucia include proximity and the fact that passengers in-transit here for the first 24 hours will not have to pay departure tax.
In addition, passengers will have their luggage tagged to their final destination and a special departure facility has been set up here to speed up the transfer process.
The St Lucia Government recently negotiated with the Suriname-based CARICOM Airlines to set up shop here to feed connections off international flights as well as transport passengers to nearby islands.
Chastanet said that while the carrier has received permission to fly to Grenada and Dominica and talks are being finalized with Martinique, in the case of St. Vincent an application has been pending for over two months.
“I have let the St. Vincent authorities know that if I don’t hear from them within the next week then we unfortunately will have to stop SVG Air and Mustique Air from coming to St. Lucia.
“Those two Vincentian carriers have been benefiting from approvals that we have given and all we expect is to be reciprocated particularly as CARICOM Airways is a St. Lucia company and therefore is entitled to certain courtesies,” he said.
Chastanet said that he hopes the decision can be avoided as the people of the two islands have enjoyed and shared a long standing relationship, which involves frequent travel across the channel.
“There is a pre-clearance facility for Vincentians at Hewanorra Airport, when they get off the jet service they can re-clear with Vincentian customs and immigration so that when they arrive it’s almost like using a domestic flight.
“There has also been the opening of a new hotel in St. Vincent which has been using St. Lucia as a hub operation, and unfortunately SVG and Mustique Air do not have the capacity to deal with the volume of traffic, so a CARICOM Airlines being able to operate at this juncture would clearly be of benefit to them,” he told CMC.
The Minister said that the strategy of CARICOM Airlines is to provide affordable prices to the people of Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica whom he feels have been severely penalized during the era of LIAT.