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HomeNewsArchivesDELTA DROPPING ST. CROIX DEC. 1

DELTA DROPPING ST. CROIX DEC. 1

Delta Air Lines is pulling out of St. Croix Dec. 1.
The Atlanta-based carrier now has one flight a day in and out of Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, the same flight that stops on St. Thomas in a circuit originating in Atlanta.
The Delta announcement caught V.I. officials by surprise, according to a release from the Port Authority. It said Port Authority Executive Director Gordon Finch met Thursday morning with Delta representatives "and was informed that it is no longer economically feasible" for the airline to continue to serve St. Croix.
Passenger revenues do not justify the monthly costs of some $88,000 assessed by the Port Authority as landing fees and facilities rental, Delta officials said. Delta began serving St. Croix in 1992, the release stated, and from last October through June of this year carried a total of 18,978 passengers to St. Croix.
That works out to a daily average of just under 70 persons, including the busy yearend holidays period.
Finch said Delta plans to continue serving St. Thomas, where in recent years it has typically had one flight a day out of Atlanta year-round and a second flight out of New York in the high season.
If Delta’s departure from St. Croix isn’t somehow halted, said Noel Loftus, president of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, the consequences for the island will be disastrous. He said if Delta’s passenger numbers don’t make it feasible to serve St. Croix, then the situation probably isn’t different for US Airways and American Airlines, the only other major carriers that fly into Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
"My personal feeling is that if we lose Delta, we’ll lose USAir," Loftus said. "I see this as a first step."
He said the combination of government-controlled airport fees and misuse of tourism advertising funds is choking St. Croix.
The Port Authority, Loftus said, has the highest airport fees in the Caribbean. Tie that to lack of demand for flights and it is clear why airlines are pulling out, he said.
And without the 8 percent hotel room occupancy tax going toward marketing the territory, Loftus said, tourism for St. Croix is crippled. The tax, which generates between $8 million and $9 million annually, is supposed to go toward tourism marketing. Instead, Loftus said, it is being used by the government to meet payroll.
If the occupancy tax were used for advertising only, the fund could increase to $12 million a year, he said.
"We’ve got to get the government to agree to turn over the 8 percent to the private sector for what exactly it was designed for. Unless we create the demand, more flights won’t happen," Loftus said.
Guaranteeing the use of the occupancy tax to lure more visitors and having the Port Authority review its fees may be the only way to keep Delta from taking off, Loftus said.
"This cannot stand," he said. "It has to be reversed."
Finch echoed that sentiment. He pledged to work with the government "to make overtures to the airline to try to get it to reverse its decision," the Port Authority release stated.
Sen. Roosevelt David said the government has to get more involved in keeping and attracting more airlines to the territory. One option, he said, may be for the government to subsidize the Port Authority so it can drop landing fees.
"St. Croix can’t take any more hits," David said. "The government has to get involved."
Finch, however, said he is optimistic that the renovation and expansion work under way at Rohlsen Airport "will serve as an incentive to other airlines to fly into the island in the near future," according to the release.
Delta’s station manager on St. Croix, Terry Highfield, was off island Thursday. Delta representatives in Atlanta were unable to be reached Thursday evening for comment.

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