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Biden Administration Introduces Mandatory Cash Refunds for Canceled Flights

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A United Airlines jet parked at Cyril E. King Airport, captured on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. Photo by V.I. Consortium.

The Biden administration has unveiled regulations that will require airlines to issue automatic cash refunds for canceled flights, enhancing consumer protections. Announced on Wednesday, these rules also mandate the early disclosure of additional fees, such as for checked baggage, during the booking process, benefiting travelers nationwide, including those from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The new regulations simplify the refund process for airline passengers, who previously faced challenges in recovering their money for canceled or significantly changed flights. According to the Department of Transportation, any domestic flight change over three hours or an international flight adjustment exceeding six hours will now be considered significant enough to warrant a refund.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg highlighted the importance of these regulations, stating, “Passengers deserve to get their money back when an airline owes them—without headaches or haggling.” This update aims to resolve the ambiguities that intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic, a period marked by frequent changes in flight schedules.

In addition to refund clarifications, the new rules require upfront disclosure of potential extra charges, such as baggage and change fees, by airlines and travel vendors. This initiative is part of President Joe Biden’s broader strategy to eliminate unexpected “junk fees” in various sectors, an effort he emphasized in his previous State of the Union address.

The trade association Airlines for America, which represents major airlines, acknowledged that its members typically surpass existing consumer protection norms. However, the organization recognized that refund-related complaints increased during the pandemic, though they have declined recently.

Furthermore, passengers who cancel their travel plans due to government-imposed travel restrictions or health advisories related to serious communicable diseases will be entitled to travel credits or vouchers.

These new measures from the Department of Transportation are slated to be implemented within the next six months, ensuring greater transparency and fairness in airline consumer interactions.

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Cyril E. King Airport to Close Nightly for Five Weeks Due to Runway and Taxiway Projects

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Beginning next week, Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas will undergo nightly closures for approximately five weeks, according to Preston Beyer, Director of Engineering at the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA).

During a VIPA Governing Board meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Beyer provided updates on several ongoing projects. The board approved an additional $474,047.25 for a contract with Hi-Lite Airfield Services, which was initially hired in August 2023 to update runway markings to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards. The extra funds will be used to refresh the runway’s airfield markings due to a “noted degradation of the vibrancy of the airfield markings,” Mr. Beyer stated.

The initial project aimed to address geometrical and vibrancy deficiencies identified in compliance inspections. With annual inspections approaching, VIPA decided to refresh the runway markings to ensure no deficiencies would be noted by inspectors, Mr. Beyer explained.

In addition to marking work, the middle portion of the runway will receive a new protective layer. “The contractor has mobilized the site and is expected to begin the seal coat work on the keel section of the runway next week,” Mr. Beyer informed the board. This work will necessitate hard runway closures each night for about a week. Combined with the runway pavement markings, the airport will experience approximately five weeks of nightly closures.

VIPA plans to use these closures to perform additional work, including an ongoing taxiway project, which will proceed concurrently with the seal coat and pavement marking work, thus avoiding the need for separate closures. “We anticipate that the final marking associated with the taxiway job will happen in concurrence with these nightly closures and shutdowns,” Mr. Beyer added.

The board meeting also addressed the barge ramp dredging project at Red Hook. A final review conducted in March 2024 revealed deficiencies in the completed work. Mr. Beyer noted that the contractor would return between late May and early June to correct these issues, specifically a portion of the work that wasn’t dredged to the contracted depth, affecting about 30% of the project area. VIPA will pay the partial invoice submitted, with the remaining sum due upon completion of the remediation work. Despite the deficiencies, the barge ramp remains in use and has not impeded access, Mr. Beyer confirmed.

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Bohlke International Aviation Crowned as Top Fixed-Base Operator in the Caribbean

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Bohlke International Aviation recently earned the prestigious title of Best Caribbean Fixed-Base Operator (FBO) in the 2024 Preferences Regarding Aviation Services and Equipment (PRASE) Survey. The accolade was announced by Professional Pilot magazine, which conducts this annual survey.

Industry leaders including executives, aviation managers, chief pilots, and CEOs, participated in the survey. They evaluated various FBOs based on several criteria, including Line Team, Customer Service Representatives (CSRs), Facility, Amenities, Promptness & Efficiency, and Value for Price. Achieving an impressive overall score of 9.65, Bohlke International Aviation stood out from its peers.

William Bohlke, the president of the company, shared his enthusiasm and pride regarding this recognition. “Our team’s commitment to excellence and dedication to service have truly paid off, and it’s an honor to be recognized by our customers,” he remarked. He emphasized that this achievement not only signifies a milestone for the company but also for the U.S. Virgin Islands, underscoring its importance in the tourism and service sectors.

The recognition follows a feature on Bohlke International Aviation in Professional Pilot magazine six months earlier, which detailed the company’s growth trajectory over 65 years. The feature story covered the expansion of its charter, maintenance, and FBO services into Puerto Rico.

Looking to the future, Bohlke reiterated the company’s commitment to enhancing the U.S. Virgin Islands as a key aviation hub and sharing its success with the local community.

Established in 1959, Bohlke International Aviation has consistently been at the forefront of aviation services in the Caribbean. The company offers a comprehensive range of services, including a large charter jet fleet, and is noted for its blend of Caribbean hospitality and high-level service excellence. Additionally, it operates an air charter base in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and a significant maintenance facility in Ceiba, Puerto Rico.

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Emergency Landing at St. Croix Airport Averts Disaster

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This morning, an Air Flamingo cargo plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport in St. Croix due to a landing gear failure, according to the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA).

The plane, a Short 360 arriving from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in Puerto Rico, experienced issues with its landing gear. Quick action by emergency response teams supported the crew as the aircraft, Flight WAF2203, landed safely without its gear fully deployed. VIPA’s Executive Director, Carlton Dowe, confirmed that the pilot and a crew member aboard were safe and accounted for, with no passengers involved in the flight.

The incident, occurring around 8:55 a.m., led to the temporary closure of the runway. The necessary steps to manage the emergency operations and facilitate the aircraft’s removal were swiftly put into motion. Mr. Dowe has informed the Federal Aviation Administration and is working closely with towing services to clear the runway and minimize disruption.

VIPA has communicated that some flight delays are inevitable for both arrivals and departures but is committed to reopening the runway promptly. An apology was issued to travelers for the inconvenience, emphasizing efforts to restore normal operations with utmost safety.

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