By Ken Richards
BASSETERRE, St Kitts (WINN) -- Business has not exactly taken off with a bang for new airline Phoenix Airways. The St Kitts-based airline, which began flights on July 16, reports that its flights are on average about a quarter full. CEO Neville Gumbs said, however, that he expects business to pick up.
“We are slowly growing; we are currently partnering with the Latin Fest and looking forward to working with the Latin Fest community to bring persons in for the show. We have recently launched our service to San Juan starting the 1st of September and our service to St Croix starting the 1st of October,” Gumbs said.
Gumbs says business is picking up gradually.
“Persons are slowly learning about the company and its slowly growing. Probably it’s a bit because persons have already purchased their tickets in advance. It’s slowly picking up,” Gumbs added.
He expects business to pick up towards the winter season for carnival and said the airline is still keen on working with the government.
“We are still looking into the possibilities of working with the government. We are still working with the tourism board and we have recently started negotiating with the tourism board in Nevis,” Gumbs said. “There is need for improvement and we are looking forward to their support in the negotiation process but there is nothing concrete at this time.”
The new airline has been welcomed by Dwyer Astaphan, a former tourism minister. However, he warned that it may face challenging times.
“We always welcome the airlift. We all remember that the airlift is one of the crucial issues that have been really giving us headaches over the years, particularly inter-regional airlift. It’s very expensive,” Astaphan said.
“While I certainly wish Phoenix the best and congratulate their investors and the countries for partnering in this effort, I fear that inter-regional airlift cannot in this climate of high cost survive unless it is in some way subsidized. I don’t really don’t see a way out,” he lamented.
Astaphan said airlines like Phoenix could have been getting help today if an idea for a regional fund mooted more than a decade ago had been established.
“So if a ship sails out of Miami for six days, seven days whatever it is, or Puerto Rico it would pay a levy equal to maybe 10% of the ticket or even less than that $20 per head. So if you are a family of six leaving on a seven night cruise in addition to your taxes and other things, you pay $140 on top of your ticket,” explained Astaphan.
“By my estimation, when we did that -- which would have been maybe 10, 13 years ago -- the region would have been able to raise $150 million dollars a year which would be put into a fund, managed by all of the parties including the cruise lines, the air carriers, the Caribbean hotel association, governments, stakeholders and so forth and you hire professional fund management. The money would be used, among other things to fund and support airlift in the region which then was extremely expensive and I think have become even more so today,” he said.
The former tourism minister said the plan fell through because the cruise lines were opposed to it and they were able to influence the prime ministers of the region against establishing such a fund, which could have been used to subsidize Phoenix Airways and others.
Phoenix is offering direct flights to Aruba, Barbados, St Maarten, Nevis, Antigua, Anguilla and Dominica from St Kitts, with connecting services to the Dominican Republic and Tortola. The company has a four aircraft fleet and says its prices are competitive.
Republished with permission of West Indies News Network