Fuel storage capacity to multiply by five – Airport projects maximum growth to 1.9 million passengers by 2020

POSTED: 02/20/13 12:46 PM

St. Maarten – Princess Juliana International Airport projects in its master plan the arrival of  1.7 million passengers by 2020 in a worst case scenario and 1.9 million in a more robust market, managing director Regina Labega said yesterday morning during a presentation in the parliamentary committee for Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunications.

“If we project 1.7 million passengers by 2020, do we then have the carrying capacity?” independent MP Romain Laville wondered before immediately answering his own question: “I would say no.”

But Laville also linked Labega’s remark to statements made by Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Romeo Pantophlet about his drive to bring more 5-star hotels to the island. “Everybody laughed when he said that, but Mrs. Labega has now validated that statement. There must be some sort of concert with the Minister of Tourism to accommodate these people.”

Laville said after the presentation that it is “mind-blowing how far the airport has come.” Other committee members also were positive about the state of affairs at the airport. The meeting was called by independent MP Frans Richardson – a former airport employee.

Richardson, who chaired the meeting, noted that screening of bags from private jets had been enforced at the airport by the public prosecutor’s office.”I agree with that,” he said. He also hinted that there are efforts underway to bring Virgin Atlantic and British Airways to the airport.

The 2020-target is not as outlandish as it sounds. According to the airport’s 2010 annual report that level was reached before in 2008 – the pre-crisis benchmark year – when the airport welcomed 1,726,656 travelers. In the two following years the numbers dropped relative to 2008 by 5.8 percent and 4.7 percent.

Labega told the committee that the airport will relocate its fuel-farm. “Currently it is in a dangerous location, almost in the middle of the runway,” she said. It will be moved to the current catering facility.

More importantly, the airport intends to increase its fuel stock significantly. “Currently we have 3,000 barrels of fuel in stock, enough for one day,” Labega said, acknowledging that in the past there have been numerous complaints about the precarious fuel- supply. “Our objective is to have at least 15,000 barrels in stock – enough for five days to a week.”

Both Sol and Gebe have increased their storage capacity, Labega said. Sol’s storage tanks are now capable of holding 40,000 barrels, those of Gebe 25,000.

American Airlines and US Airways will after their merger represent 27 percent of air travelers to St. Maarten. Currently, American brings in 16 percent and US 8 percent.

“I do not expect any impact from the merger on St. Maarten,” Labega said. “American will keep servicing St. Maarten from its hubs in Miami and New York, and US adds Philadelphia and Charlotte to it. The merger gives passengers other options and that is an advantage for SXM airport.”

Labega said that after the rebranding the airport will keep its original name of Princess Juliana International airport but that its abbreviated moniker will be SXM Airport akin to for instance JFK in New York and LAX in Los Angeles.

Of the visitors that arrive at the airport, 41 percent hails from the United States, 32 percent from the Caribbean, 16 percent from Europe, 6 percent from Canada and 4 percent from South America. The remaining 1 percent comes from other locations.

Labega said that the airport is slowly recovering after the benchmark year 2008 when the economic crisis hit. She said that departure fees for international travelers will gradually increase from $30 now to $45 in 2024. For what are now called former domestic flights (to the BES-islands, Curacao and Aruba) departure fees increased from $10 to $12. Over the next decade and a half these fees will further increase to $28 by 2029, Labega said. “We realized it was not possible to increase these fees to $35, like other countries within the Kingdom do.”

The departure fees for flights to Anguilla and St. Barts remains $35. Visitors from the Netherlands pay $55 in fees.

Of all arrivals at the airport, 25 percent are transit travelers. The transfer fee has gone up from $5 to $6 and will increase slightly by 2029 to $7.50.

Labega said that SXM Airport is not without competition, San Juan (Puerto Rico) handles 7.9 million passengers annually, Aruba 2 million, Barbados 1.9 million and Curacao and St. Maarten 1.7 million. The difference with Curacao is that it does not have the diversity of airlines.

Labega said that St. Maarten has to compete especially with Barbados because that airport has the ambition too to become the hub for the North Eastern Caribbean.

A study shows that in a worst case scenario the airport will receive 1.7 million visitors by 2020; in a more robust market the number could reach 1.9 million. Aircraft movements will be between 68,860 and 75,140 while the arrivals of corporate jets – a market where the airport is currently losing ground to competitors – are projected to be between 10,400 and 12,130.


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