With a 7% increase in passenger traffic in the first seven months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011, mainly attributed to international passengers, the movement of passengers at the Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM), topped the world average of 6%, this despite the global economic and financial challenges which the destination has not been immune to. This was revealed during the Strategy Summit held at the just-concluded World Routes conference in Abu Dhabi.
The St. Maarten delegation that participated in the conference consisted of officials of the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications, the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau, and the management of PJIAE, including Managing Director Regina LaBega.
It was also disclosed that airlines saw strong profits in 2011, although the sluggish world economy and the financial crisis in Europe would seem to dampen forecasts for the current year. However, there was no denying the potential of the aviation industry to be a driver of economic growth, especially if greater liberalization of the industry were effected.
The various airlines servicing our destination reported healthy load factors. Delta, the third largest airline in the world, with a revenue of $854 million in 2011, indicated that its load factor to SXM was a very healthy average of 90%.
Delta will be launching its new weekly service from JFK-SXM in December this year and will maintain the current service from ATL to SXM. (SXM is the international designator code for PJIA.)
Similarly, United Airlines disclosed that its existing service to SXM is showing healthy load factors, and its extended seasonal service this year exceeded the company’s expectations.
Jet Blue reported that the performance of its SJU-SXM route during the summer or slow period was better than anticipated.
According to the airline, the approach of “serving the local market” and not necessarily focusing on the connecting passengers worked well, however, the figures also demonstrated that there is room for an increase in the rotations from San Juan (SJU) with the aim of ultimately increasing capacity next year.
The Boston service is also performing well, and the airline is currently working on strengthening its alliances. Jet Blue complemented the proposed investments by PJIAE and reiterated that South Florida is a good potential market for strengthening the partnership. The company announced that the Fort Lauderdale (FLL) service could commence in November 2013.
For its part, Air France relayed to the St. Maarten delegation that it is pleased with the route’s performance, which recorded a load factor of above 80%.
Air France, however, stressed that it is more concerned with profitability than with number of passengers. The SXM route, it said, is in line with its business model.
Edward Dest of the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau requested that the reductions in seats by KLM and Air France, which occur seasonally, should be made in such a way that it allows for service to Europe by at least one carrier. This would mean that KLM and Air France should refrain from implementation on the same day of the week, which leaves the potential passenger with limited or no seats to Europe on a particular day.
The meeting with Gol highlighted the fact that SXM is still on its radar, however marketing of the route was essential. Gol stated that the equipment is available and that it would use the Dominican Republic as a hub, similar to what Copa does with Panama.
Gol identified Sao Paulo-SDQ (Santo Domingo)-SXM as a potential route and also a Sao Paulo-SXM-ATL service, given the fact that the Atlanta-based Delta owns 30% of Gol.
The airline further stressed that SXM should consider a flight originating from Sao Paolo (GRU) rather than Manaus given the reach of the former.
“We are certainly pleased with all these reports,” said PJIAE Managing Director Regina LaBega. “They reassure us that we are on the right path with the new investments we propose to make at the airport, especially the rehabilitation of the runway.”
“It means we cannot rest on our wings but continue to work diligently so SXM could remain as one of the leading airports in the region,” LaBega added.