Clash between St. Maarten and DR aviation authorities

St. Maarten press are covering the difficulties in the relations between St. Maarten and the Dominican Republic regarding who gets to fly the passengers between the Caribbean island countries.

The Daily Herald of St. Maarten reports that the St. Maarten Civil Aviation Authority (SMCAA) had announced that all flights between the two countries would be cancelled as of 6 August 2022. Yet, Acting Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication of St. Maarten, Omar Ottley, would intervene and the date is extended to 31 August 2022. SMCAA had banned the flights after the Civil Aviation Board of the Dominican Republic had denied flight permits to Winair to cover the St. Maarten to Dominican Republic route.

Acting Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication of St. Maarten, Omar Ottley says the month will give time for passengers to make new plans. Ottley expects this will also give the time needed to assess the alleged dispute between the two countries’ aviation authorities.

As reported in The Daily Herald, SMCAA is demanding that Windward Island Airways (Winair) be allowed to continue flying between St. Maarten and the Dominican Republic.

Resolution 172-2022 of the Junta de Aviación Civil de la República Dominicana (JAC), the civil aviation authority of the Dominican Republic, reportedly denies Winair, the designated carrier of St. Maarten, traffic rights between St. Maarten and the Dominican Republic.

Winair Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Michael Cleaver said the resolution violates the bilateral agreement on air transport between St. Maarten and the Dominican Republic. The airline first flew the route in 2010, but then suspended the flights in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The airline announced it would resume the flights starting 7 July 2022 with roundtrip flights on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Cleaver said Winair was informed by JAC soon afterward that Dominican-based airlines Air Century and Sky High Aviation would be handling all transport. Both airlines served the route during the pandemic.

Air Century is a Dominican airline founded in 1992 and Sky High Aviation Services Dominicana obtained its air operator certificate (AOC) on 5 October 2012. Both airlines fly aircraft with a capacity of 50 seats on the route to St. Maarten.

According to the 2021 Commercial Air Transport Statistics Report of the Dominican Republic, there was aircraft movement of 94,819 arriving and departing flights between both countries in the year 2021. “That represents an 81% recovery compared to the 2019 year,” the report states. “The last three months, October-December, showed full recovery with a 3% growth all three months together.”

The Dutch Caribbean represents the “busiest air connections by Dominican-based airlines,” JAC report indicates. “St. Martin, Curaçao and Aruba reflected significant passenger traffic with 44,798 between the three in 2021.”

Of these 44,798 Dutch Caribbean visitors, 18,152 came from St. Maarten. Of this group, 9,221 people travelled with Air Century from St. Maarten to the Dominican Republic and 7,606 travellers chose Sky High Aviation Services.

Cleaver says the resolution seeks to give the the two Dominican airlines full control of the route. “We are not allowed to operate there,” he said.

SMCAA believes that the decision from JAC infringes on WINAIR’s right as designated carrier under the agreement to freely provide commercial services to the public of St. Maarten and the Dominican Republic. “The basis of air transport agreement is reciprocity and as such, with this in mind, the decision was taken to suspend the operating authorizations and place on hold all pending applications from Dominican Republic operators until further notice,” SMCAA states.

With families from St. Maarten vacationing in the Dominican Republic, including a couple of hundred children, an interruption of flights would have serious consequences for this group of travellers. School is to start again on Monday in Dutch St. Maarten and schools on the French side reopen later this month.

Suspension of the seven weekly flights operated by St. Maarten carrier Winair and Dominican-based airlines Air Century and Sky High Aviation between the two island countries would also impact businesses and the community at large.

Cleaver hopes it will not get that far. “The last thing we want is for business to be interrupted,” he said, stressing that he is counting on a positive response from JAC, and a subsequent resolution.

SMCAA has urged all currently operating Dominican Republic operators to make the necessary arrangements for their passengers and operations on the route St. Maarten to the Dominican Republic and vice versa before 6 August 2022.

Read more:
The Daily Herald
Bes Reporter
Curacao Chronicle

3 August 2022