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TOURISM MATTERS – The American Eagle pull-out and its costs

Adrian Loveridge

TOURISM MATTERS – The American Eagle pull-out and its costs

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I WAS?SURPRISED to read in this publication last week that American Eagle will suspend its service to Puerto Rico from April 15. Especially as according to the American Airlines website, a twice-daily service five daysa week and once daily on the other two days of the week will continue fromSt Lucia to San Juan. Grenada also retains a thrice-weekly direct flight.
St Lucia’s minister of tourism was recently quoted in the media as saying that his government was negotiating with American Eagle to resurrect the St Lucia to Barbados route, so this may represent some sort of alternative link to Puerto Rico depending on flight schedules.
Otherwise it will involve a minimum travel time of four hours with a change of aircraft in either Dominica or St Lucia and Antigua with LIAT.
The loss of at least 280 airline seats per week must be a concern to our tourism planners as San Juan was frequently used as a hub to connect passengers from other United States cities.
Whether LIAT has the capacity, let alone available aircraft, or if in fact there is sufficient current demand to operate a direct service is at this stage presumably an unknown. And that assumes they have the traffic rights for non-stop flights.
The other possibility is that if and when REDJet is given all the necessary licences to fly, it could offer an alternative with a travel time of about 75 minutes.
San Juan is also the largest cruise hub in the region and whether the restricted weight and size limit of baggage imposed by LIAT will in the interim deter potential passengers joining ships is another consideration.  
St Lucia’s decision to declare Caribbean Airlines (CAL) its national carrier broadens that country’s scope to maintain and expand airlift and would not prohibit that carrier from operating a jet service to San Juan from Hewanorra, if an air services agreement is in place.
CAL’s acquisition of Air Jamaicaalso gives St Lucia 14 flights a week from North America. 
Senator Allen Chastanet recently revealed that St Lucia’s inter-regional traffic is down over 60 000 passengers from 2005, with a loss of someUS$39 million in revenue.  
Clearly, they are putting into place steps to redress that situation and recognize the critical contribution this market makes, particularlyin the softer summer months. 
I wonder too if policymakers have fully taken into account the impact and consequences of the new SVG Argyle International Airport scheduledto open in less than a year.
Despite the St Vincent Government shareholding in LIAT, they will need a variety of jet scheduled services to even hope to recoup the massive investment estimated at around US$220 million.
Annual passenger capacity is putat 1.4 million with the capability of handling a B747 and B767. Will they follow St Lucia and grant the same status to Caribbean Airlines, and how will this impact on the economics of our airport?
When asked if other Caribbean neighbours have signalled interest in having CAL as their national carrier, Trinidadian Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar replied, “I would prefer not to disclose which countries may.”  
Adrian Loveridge is a hotelier of four decades’ standing.