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DELTA WILLING TO RECONSIDER ST. CROIX CUTOFF

A Delta Air Lines corporate spokesman said Thursday that the carrier was willing to sit down with V.I. government officials to talk about service to St. Croix.
The comment came as damage control by the public and private sectors was under way in the wake of Delta’s announcement Thursday that it will stop flying to St. Croix as of Dec. 1.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II said he has asked Port Authority Executive Director Gordon Finch to arrange a meeting with government and airline officials at Delta’s Atlanta headquarters. No date was given for the meeting.
In an interview just a few hours before James’ statement, Delta spokesman Tracy O’Donnal said he wasn’t sure whether the V.I. government had contacted the airline about discussing the issue. However, O’Donnal said, the airline is willing to meet with government officials on the matter.
He said Delta doesn’t suspend service to a community without considering the fallout. But, he added, "the bottom line is a matter of cost versus revenue."
While Delta officials have estimated that the airline pays $88,000 a month in landing and leasing fees to the Port Authority to operate at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, O’Donnal wouldn’t discuss the airline’s official financial information. Port Authority officials could not be reached for comment about the agency’s fees, which are reported to be the highest in the Caribbean.
In hopes of keeping Delta and luring other carriers, island business leaders are calling on the Port Authority to examine its airport fees to see if they can be lowered. Government leaders are also considering that option.
"We obviously want Delta to keep flying to St. Croix," said James, serving as acting governor while Gov. Charles Turnbull is out of the territory. "But we can’t just beg them back without offering them incentives in order to make it economically feasible."
O’Donnal said that if the numbers made it worthwhile for Delta to continue servicing St. Croix, the airline could reconsider its decision to pull out.
"It’s certainly something we’d take into consideration," O’Donnal said. "Delta is always willing to look at proposals."
Delta began serving St. Croix in 1992. From October 1998 through June, it reported carrying a total of 18,978 passengers to St. Croix.
Delta’s passenger reservation service on Friday quoted $426 for a 14-day advance-purchase round-trip ticket between St. Croix and Atlanta through Dec. 1. The base fare does not include federal taxes and fees assessed at the airports at either end of the flight.
Meanwhile, O’Donnal said Delta plans to continue serving St. Thomas with a daily direct flight from Atlanta.
"The St. Thomas market is a very successful market for Delta," he said, adding that the airline must focus its resources on routes that demand service.
With that in mind, acting Tourism Commissioner Monique Sibilly-Hodge noted that Delta’s last day of service to St. Croix coincides with the targeted opening of the island's first major tourist draw since the Carambola resort opened a decade ago.
"It is ironic that this will occur on the same day that the first casino on St. Croix is scheduled to open, which we all hope will presage the revival of St. Croix’s economy," she said.

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