During a recent session of the Senate Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance, V.I. Port Authority Executive Director, Carlton Dowe, presented a promising update on expanded air routes connecting the U.S. Virgin Islands to other destinations within the Caribbean.
Reflecting on prior meetings with the Senate, Dowe highlighted the progress made, remarking, “The previous time we convened, many of these developments were yet to materialize.”
Among the promising enhancements to regional travel are Cape Air’s introduction of eight weekly flights connecting St. Thomas with Nevis, which commenced earlier in February. Another addition, as pointed out by Dowe, is the establishment of Sky High Aviation’s bi-weekly service, which started in March, linking St. Thomas with Santo Domingo. Furthermore, discussions are underway for Sky High Aviation to bridge Santo Domingo and St. Croix. Silver Airways has also reinstated its island airbridge services, now operational between St. Croix and St. Thomas, along with routes to San Juan. An emerging player, Fly the Whale, has rekindled Seaborne’s enthusiasm for inter-island transit.
On the international front, Dowe stated, “In collaboration with the Department of Tourism, VIPA is eager to rejuvenate international partnerships with airlines from Denmark, Italy, and Canada.” With St. Croix boasting a substantial 10,000-foot runway and forthcoming terminal enhancements, Dowe anticipates that these upgrades will be magnetic, potentially drawing flights from North America and Europe by winter 2024/2025.
Touching upon incentives, Dowe spoke of an existing airline incentive designed to foster additional air travel on both new and existing routes across the international airports.
Yet, amidst these positive updates, Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, chair of the committee, expressed concerns over the discernible decline in airlift metrics. As per her insights, passenger traffic, which was nearing a million in 2019, had plummeted to 830,000. Confirmations from VIPA’s CFO revealed an anticipated air traffic of 604,000 to St. Thomas and 209,000 to St. Croix for the current fiscal year. Addressing these figures, Ms. Frett-Gregory queried, “What strategic discussions are underway with the Department of Tourism and the Virgin Islands Port Authority to bolster airlift within the region?”
While re-emphasizing his hopeful stance, Dowe pointed at global developments, such as fluctuating fuel prices and constrained fuel storage capabilities in the Virgin Islands, as influential factors for the slump. Nevertheless, he remained steadfast in his belief about a revival in air passenger flow. This sentiment was echoed by Territorial Airport Manager, Jerome Sheridan, who added that certain airlift challenges lay beyond local jurisdiction, such as carriers deploying older fleets for these routes. Backing Dowe, Sheridan asserted, “Our commitment to enhancing U.S. Virgin Islands’ airlift is unwavering. We are second to none in our dedication.”