~ Heyliger calls again for lifting of lien ~
PHILIPSBURG--National airline Winair started its new route to Santo Domingo via Curaçao on Monday, a day after the airline started servicing another new route, Tortola, as part of its expansion into the greater Caribbean. In the planning for months, Winair hopes to fill successfully a void in Caribbean airlift by offering travellers new, affordable and dependable service.
A ceremony attended by Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams was held at Princess Juliana International Airport SXM to celebrate the start of the flight. The ceremony, also attended by SXM Airport board and management, came complete with a wetting of the aircraft, which turned out to be an Air Antilles ATR aircraft which, according to reports, Winair will be utilising in the short term.
Why Winair was leasing planes from the French airline Air Antilles, for how long and how much it is costing the airline is not known. Apparently the ATRs Winair intended to use are not quite ready or adorned with the airline's colours. This fact did not prevent the Prime Minister from hailing the new route as a great accomplishment for Winair.
She thanked the Supervisory Board, management and Winair staff for making this achievement a possibility. "Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the board, management and employees of Winair and all others who today are making it possible that we can celebrate this very special occasion," she said.
"Over the past few years I know that there have been issues at Winair, but I have come to realise that due to the dedication of the board, management and staff there has always been a speedy resolution to those issues. I therefore know that any question on whether or not this airline will be moved forward has already been answered in the affirmative.
"I know a lot of hard work went into what we have been celebrating and so, on behalf of the government of St. Maarten, I truly would like to again thank all of you, thank you for the risks you have taken and determining they are worth taking."
She concluded by expressing her hope that the airline would grow and expand in the future and that it would remain a truly regional St. Maarten airline.
"I hope that you will continue in this fashion to represent St. Maarten, Winair and the people of this country. Congratulations to all of you and I hope to see this expansion continue and I urge all of you to work together in order to make this happen. May God continue to bless this airline, this country and everyone who is a part of this endeavour," she said.
Member of Parliament and leader of the United People's (UP) party Theo Heyliger congratulated the hard-working employees, management and staff of Winair for spreading its wings in the Caribbean and demonstrating again its importance to St. Maarten.
"Winair and its staff should be very proud on this day as the national airline of St. Maarten. Your turnaround and planned leaps forward are remarkable," Heyliger said, and expressed the hope that the airline would find great success on its new routes.
However, Heyliger took the opportunity to call on the board and management of SXM Airport once again to lift the lien the airport currently has on Winair for arrears. He noted that it was one thing for management and board to sit and congratulate Winair and wet its planes, but he added that Winair would do better if "big sister" would lift the lien and allow the airline to expand even further.
"The airport can congratulate the airline for its expansion plans, but fact is Winair, which by all accounts has been financially diligent in paying its arrears, is still limited as a result of the lien of the airport. Winair performs very well in terms of passenger movement at the airport, bringing sustained business to the airport. Isn't it about time we cut them some slack?" he said.
SXM Airport Managing Director Regina Labega said nothing made the airport happier than to witness an airline increase its service to the facility.
"SXM Airport has a special interest in Winair's success, not only because it is considered our national flag-bearer or carrier, but also, and perhaps more importantly, because what is good for Winair is at the same time good for Princess Juliana International Airport," she said.
"Winair already occupies pride of place within our airport family, being a top performer in terms of aircraft and passenger movements. For example, in 2011, Winair brought in 11 per cent of the total passengers recorded at SXM Airport. Only American Airlines (17 per cent) and US Airways (11.5 per cent) did better," she said.
"With this inaugural direct flight to Santo Domingo (and I understand Port-au-Prince, Haiti, will soon follow), not only will Winair be offering passengers to those destinations a choice, but it would also be positioning itself to substantially increase its passenger movement to SXM Airport."
She said that as SXM Airport continued the celebration of its 70th anniversary, it was noteworthy that Winair had been one of the few partners that had spent their entire lifetime with SXM.
"That means for over half a century now, the airline has operated at SXM Airport. In other words, the relationship between SXM Airport and Winair is by no means a shotgun marriage; it is a relationship that has stood the test of time, and will continue to do so.
"It gives me great pleasure, therefore, to congratulate Winair on this important step in its development and to wish the management and staff of the airline the very best as you spread your wings to expand into new destinations," Labega concluded.