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Weather Woes: Strong Winds Divert Flights to St. Croix, Affecting Caribbean Air Travel

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A fleet comprising four American Airlines and one Spirit Airlines jet parked at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (HERA), St. Croix, captured on Thursday, March 28, 2024. Photograph by Ernice Gilbert for V.I. Consortium.

Strong winds sweeping across the Caribbean last Thursday prompted an unusual air traffic scenario, with several flights being rerouted, leading to an unexpected gathering of aircraft at St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (HERA). This situation saw multiple American Airlines flights, initially bound for various Caribbean destinations, making an unscheduled touchdown on St. Croix soil.

Carlton Dowe, the Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority, reported that the rerouting was necessitated by the challenging weather conditions. Additionally, the wind disturbances caused some flights destined for St. Thomas to be diverted to Puerto Rico, further highlighting the day’s logistical complexities. Amid these changes, American Airlines and Spirit flights in St. Thomas faced delays, awaiting the green light for takeoff.

The wind’s force was so formidable that one aircraft, attempting to land in St. Thomas, had to redirect to Puerto Rico, while another chose to return to Miami. An American Airlines service was also canceled, emphasizing the significant disruptions travelers and airlines faced. “St. Croix became a haven for diversions intended for other Caribbean islands,” Dowe remarked, acknowledging HERA’s pivotal role in managing the day’s extraordinary circumstances.

Despite the upheaval, the day saw successful departures from St. Thomas, including a Delta and a Spirit flight. Dowe described the situation as “quite chaotic,” yet underscored that ensuring safety was the paramount concern for the Virgin Islands Port Authority throughout the ordeal.

By Friday evening, HERA hosted four American Airlines and one Spirit Airlines plane, a tangible testament to the preceding day’s disruptions. This event follows closely on the heels of a similar incident the previous Sunday, when American Airlines canceled a flight from St. Croix to Miami due to bad weather, highlighting the ongoing challenges that severe weather poses to regional air travel and the imperative of prioritizing safety above all.

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Frontier Airlines Launches Nonstop Flights from St. Croix to Orlando, Boosting Tourism and Connectivity

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Frontier Airlines, known as America’s Greenest Airline, has inaugurated nonstop service from Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (STX) to Orlando International Airport (MCO) as of May 25, 2024. This launch will be followed by the introduction of another route to Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, beginning June 2, 2024. The airline has introduced promotional fares starting at $99 to celebrate these new services.

Josh Flyr, Frontier Airlines’ Vice President of Network Operations and Design, expressed enthusiasm about the expanded services. “With this new service to and from Orlando and San Juan, Frontier is pleased to support St. Croix’s valuable tourism industry and offer convenient, affordable flight options to local residents,” Flyr stated.

The Orlando route will operate once a week, while flights to San Juan will be available three times a week, enhancing both tourism access and local mobility. Flight schedules and additional details can be found on Frontier’s official website.

In conjunction with the new routes, Frontier has launched ‘UpFront Plus,’ an upgraded seating option providing additional leg and elbow room in the first two rows of their aircraft. This option ensures an empty middle seat for added comfort.

Frontier also highlighted its enhanced frequent flyer program, FRONTIER Miles, which allows customers to quickly accumulate miles at a rate of $1 equaling 10 miles. Designed with families in mind, the program offers benefits such as family pooling of miles, priority boarding, and waived fees for changes made at least a week in advance.

Promotional fares for the new flights must be purchased by June 7, 2024, and are valid for travel from June 2, 2024, through September 30, 2024, with specific blackout dates. These fares do not require a round-trip purchase and are available exclusively to members of the airline’s Discount Den program.

Reservations made under the promotional offer are non-refundable, except for cancellations made within 24 hours of booking, provided the booking is made at least a week before departure. Additional services such as baggage and seat assignments are available at extra costs.

Frontier Airlines’ expansion is set to enhance the local economy by improving air connectivity and offering more affordable travel options for both residents and tourists.

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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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