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American Eagle to End P.R.-V.I. Flights in 2013

It’s official. After months of rumors swirling around about the end of American Eagle’s flights between San Juan and the territory’s two airports, Tourism Department spokesman Allegra Kean-Moorehead confirmed the departure Monday.

“It’s definitely concerning,” she said.

Kean-Moorehead said Tourism received the news Sunday. She said that because the department just got the news, it hasn’t had the time to discuss American Eagle’s departure with the airline or explore options with additional carriers.

In response to two inquiries to its Florida office, American Airlines sent a terse response via email that seemed to hedge on the total pullout of American Eagle.

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Dori Robu Alvarez of American’s corporate communications office said that as part of American’s restructuring process, it was planning to return all of its ATR airplanes to the leasing company. American Eagle flies ATRs between San Juan and the Virgin Islands airports.

Alvarez said that as the fleet of planes is returned to the leasing company, operations in San Juan will be reduced, adding that American did not know the exact timing of the changes.

“American is also evaluating several replacement solutions to continue to provide service to the region,” Alvarez said. “This evaluation should be completed sometime later this year.”

It’s far too soon to see how this will shake out. Kean-Moorehead pointed out that Jet Blue, Cape Air and Seaborne Airlines fly the route between San Juan and St. Thomas’ Cyril E. King Airport as well as between San Juan and St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.

“It may open up new opportunities for local carriers. It may be an opportunity for them to gain more of the market share,” she said.

Richard Doumeng, managing director of Bolongo Bay Resort, said that “it’s never good when an air partner, especially one of such long standing,” leaves the territory.

Doumeng also serves as president-elect at the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and said that the territory is lucky to have a year to see how things pan out with air travel and the stabilization of fuel prices.

As the news of American Eagle’s departure circulated, Moe Chabuz, owner of Skinny Legs Bar and Restaurant on St. John, pointed out that the loss of American Eagle flights will make it more difficult for people to visit.

“I think it can hurt the island,” he said, adding that he hoped someone else would fill in the gap left by American Eagle.

According to Kean-Moorehead, American Eagle has about 3,000 seats weekly to the territory. There are three flights a day in each direction between San Juan and St. Thomas as well as St. Croix.

Doumeng spoke about American Eagle’s reduction in the number of flights to the territory over the years.

While Jet Blue has helped with air lift to the territory, Doumeng said with American Eagle gone, the low-cost Jet Blue won’t have any competition. He predicted that ticket prices will go up.

“Get those tickets now, kids,” he advised, only partially joking.

American Eagle is the only airline ending flights to the territory, and Kean-Moorehead said she expects American Airlines to continue its flights to St. Thomas and St. Croix.

“American Airlines is too big to fail,” Doumeng added.

Wire service stories on Monday, however, indicated that US Airways is making overtures to buy out American. American and American’s parent company, AMR Corp., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Nov. 29, 2011. If US Airways is successful, that could change the situation.

While American Eagle’s planned departure isn’t good news, Doumeng said it’s much worse on other Caribbean islands that don’t have Jet Blue, Cape Air and Seaborne Airlines to potentially fill in the gap.

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