Oranjestad, St. Eustatius- Statia Resident Mia Van Deelen has sent out a long letter to State Secretary Raymond Knops about the lack of alternatives when it comes to air transportation for residents of St. Eustatius and Saba.
According to Van Deelen, so far she isn’t getting the right answers when asking questions to local authorities about a viable alternative for residents other than travel via St. Maarten.
“After the devastation of hurricane Irma in 2017 it became clear again how dependent Saba and St. Eustatius are on St. Maarten. The call for less dependency on the infrastructure and transport possibilities of St. Maarten increased again after Irma”, according to Van Delen.
Van Deelen in her letter points out that above all, there is a need for affordable air connections with surrounding islands but also a direct air connection with Curacao and – especially – with Bonaire. “After all, the latter island is part of the BES-island group and many coordinating RCN bodies are located there”.
Van Deelen also points out that the statement of the governments about the existence of a BES-Bubble makes no sense, when there are no alternatives for residents to leave the island. “That sounds good but there are no flights between these islands at all! In short, a plan that can only exist on paper and not in the real world”. According to Van Deelen, so far people themselves had to arrange (expensive) charters or travel by private planes to be able to leave the island at all.
Van Deelen in her letter to Knops also refers to a study which was carried out by the SEO consultancy, which concluded that flights between the islands should be considered an ‘imperfect market’ by lack of sufficient demand and that those routes should -like is the case with the French Antilles- be subsidized by (Central) Government.
Van Deelen in her letter furthermore also points to the fact that a ferry service, which is often suggested by Dutch counterparts, is not really an alternative for the air travel woes of the islanders.
“Experiences in previous years have shown that a ferry is simply not viable in the long run: the travel time is too long, the tickets too expensive ….and the islanders generally try to avoid sailing on the open sea. Moreover, there is again the (structurally undesirable) dependence on Sint Maarten”, writes Van Deelen.
Van Deelen is not alone in her criticism on the lack of air transportation sector. Various actors in the tourism sector also point out that an alternative to the St. Maarten hub would be very desirable to get tourists in and out of the island.