In a bold attempt to encourage economic development in the region and meet growing travel demands, the U.S. Virgin Islands has announced various incentives for airlines to add service to the Territory over the last few years — with some significant results.
For companies that began new service or increased existing service to St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport between June 2008 and December 2010, the territorial government offered year-long waivers of all landing fees, terminal parking fees and half of the departure and arrival user fees, a significant savings for airlines. The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism offered additional support by providing the eligible airlines with its own incentives, including press announcements, inaugural flight events, receptions for travel agents and media and promotions marketed directly to consumers.
To qualify for the new incentive program, airlines had to provide new service on a route they had not been offering the previous year during the same period, or add new flights to a route already in existence. These programs have been applicable to all commercial passenger airlines and were engineered to increase service to only one specific airport, and so they are in compliance with U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
Seaborne Airlines, based out of St. Croix, immediately made plans to increase its flight capacity from San Juan, St. Thomas, Vieques, Tortola and Virgin Gorda to the U.S. Virgin Islands, an initiative that began taking effect last spring. Even with their small planes, carrying only 17 to 34 seats, these new routes increase the airline’s flights to at least 350 per week, shuttling as many as 10,000 people to and from St. Croix.
These new flights make Seaborne the U.S. Virgin Islands’ highest-capacity carrier, as well as add more tourist revenue and local employment opportunities. Delta’s recent decision to increase flights has also provided some terrific economic benefits, as the airline announced late last fall that it would add more flights to St. Thomas from its Atlanta and New York hubs beginning in mid-2014.
In the past, Delta typically cut flights to the U.S. Virgin Islands during off-season (August to November). However, the airline has pledged to keep those flights, and add two flights a week during the winter months and make its Saturday-only New York-to-St. Thomas flight a daily route. This will continue until at least September of this year, with the potential to bring substantial tourist revenue to the territory.
The U.S. Virgin Islands’ Tourist Commissioner has expressed excitement over the significantly increased airline service, citing an increasing demand for flights to St. Croix and the desire to continue to meet that demand.
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