St. Eustatius

Cheaper Air Fare between Islands Could be Within Reach

Former KLM CEO Peter Hartman thinks cheaper airfare for residents could become reality, if the Dutch Government adopts the advice drafted by the ‘aviation expert group’.

Kralendijk – According to Peter Hartman, chairman of the committee looking into ways to make air travel between the Dutch Caribbean islands more affordable, a possible solution is now within reach. Hartman says the ball is now in the court of Dutch Politics, when it comes to the implementation of concrete measures.

Hartman, a former president and CEO of KLM, says that the committee has already done a lot of work. An advice, which could lead to a major breakthrough when it comes to (more) affordable tickets, is on the table. “We have been studying this matter for almost two years and I can say that a lot of work has been done, together with everyone involved”.

Hartman says that he gladly accepted the challenge at the time, when he was asked to lead an ‘expert group’ to look into the issue of connectivity and high prices. “I was born in Curaçao after all and, for example during my tenure with KLM, I have always been strongly involved with the islands during almost 30 years. I still visit Bonaire quite regularly. “

According to Hartman, he set several important conditions before accepting the assignment. “I stated beforehand that I wanted to do this work without any pay. In addition, I thought it was important that all islands as well as The Hague supported my appointment, “said Hartman.

Public Service Obligation

According to Hartman, a possible answer for the problems air transport lies along the lines of a so-called ‘Public Service Obligation’ (PSO). A PSO allows the government to intervene at times when the market fails.

“There is no doubt that the market is failing when it comes to local aviation,” says Hartman passionately. “I fully support the findings of the consultants of SEO, who concluded that the routes from the islands are simply too” thin “to be truly viable on a commercial basis.”

Hartman also says that the problem in this case is a structural one. “I sometimes see that people only look at immediate events. If a new airline company starts on one of the islands, people are quick to say that the problem has been solved. But that is not the case at all. If a market consistently fails, the problem will not solve itself.

Hartman says that the wheel, when it comes to the PSO, does not have to be reinvented. “As committee, we looked closely at what France is doing in its overseas territories. Certain routes, which are not viable under normal circumstances, are subsidized by the French authorities. Our committee believes that the problem of connectivity and fares on the islands should be tackled in the same way”.

What matters is the fact that people on for instance Saba and St. Eustatius really depend on air travel when it comes to access to essential services.

Hartman feels that only the inhabitants of the islands should reap the benefits of a possible government subsidy. “Tourists who comes to our islands can pay the full fare, in my humble opinion. What matters is the fact that people on for instance Saba and St. Eustatius really depend on air travel when it comes to access to essential services, but also -for example- to visit family on neighboring islands. “

Concrete agreements needed

According to Hartman, a lot of work still needs to be done, even if politics does take the necessary decisions on the short term. “The whole plan still needs to be worked out, when it comes to technical and practical details. Even if is clear what the approach is going to be, agreements need to be negotiated with those companies needed to implement all this.  It is important to have good, solid and reliable partners to work with”.

Hartman says that during the work of his ‘expert group’ he received a lot of support from the local island Governments (Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire), but also from Key persons in the various Dutch Ministries.

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