By Harald Linkels
The initiative of the Dutch Caribbean Airport Association (DCAA) to lobby for electric flights between the islands – no doubt unintentionally – is the absolute P-E-R-F-E-C-T political excuse for political The Hague to do noth, until at least 2026.
The problem with the matter of electric flying is, that it sounds so sympathetic that no one in their right mind could be against it. ‘Climate neutral’, ‘fraction of the cost’, ‘cheaper tickets’. Who wouldn’t want that?
To the airports pushing the issue, I would like to say: Stick to your own field of expertise. Airports need to be concerned with offering travellers a comfortable experience pre- or post flight, efficiency, air traffic safety and other related issues. But how transportation takes place through the air from A to B is the domain of airlines, and not of the airports.
Things always seem different in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom than in the European part. Can you imagine that Schiphol or Groningen Airport Eelde will tell KLM or TUI with which equipment to fly? And when it comes to climate pollution and CO2 emissions, doesn’t the mega operation of the Netherlands, with millions of travellers worldwide, carry thousands or even millions of times more weight than our handful of inter-island flights?
The worst part, however, is that the complete and honest story is not being told. Anyone who knows anything about aviation in this part of the world knows that the problem is not so much the operation of the aircraft, but the additional costs. All airport taxes, landing fees, parking fees, navigational fees, security fees, airport improvement fees and so on, and forth. The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) conducted a study that sums up the fact that an overkill in taxes and other fees makes flying between the Caribbean islands all but unsustainable.
If the airports are really as committed to lowering ticket prices as they pretend, why not start by doing away with the exorbitant airport taxes for inter-island travel. When traveling between Curaçao and Aruba, it is about 100 dollars on a return ticket, more than one third of the ticket price. So we can already make tickets considerably cheaper, simply by immediately deducting airport taxes and other surcharges. Starting right now! No electrical flights needed for that.
“Too simplistic” you say? Yes, but the lobbyists of electric flying are also guilty of that. It is very nice to pretend that electric flying is an answer to everything and will make everything cheaper, as if it were a magic solution. But that’s just not true.
The electric planes that will be suitable for transporting passengers (and their luggage) between the islands are largely still in the design phase. Price tag: Unknown. However, if we look at the price tag of electric cars, which are considerably bigger than for traditional cars, it is not hard at all to foresee that electric flights won’t necessarily be much cheaper. Without hard figures about purchase price, depreciation, maintenance, wear and tear, battery life, etc., it is not yet possible to calculate the cost at all. Add to that the above-mentioned surcharges, and tickets will be just as, or even more than they are now.
Am I against electric flying? Not at all. A wonderful development. But the fact that -if all goes well- in 2035 it will be possible to fly ‘fully electric’ between the island should not be an excuse for political The Hague to do nothing about high ticket prices NOW.
In the meantime, a concrete proposal from the Commissie Hartman- not exactly an ignorant on the matter- for subsidizing a few tickets per year for residents of the Caribbean Netherlands has been gathering dust at the Ministry of Transport for almost three years now.
If the ‘affordable flying’ file in The Hague is tackled as energetically as the establishment of a Social Minimum, then there is no reason for too much optimism.