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Printed in The Daily Herald, Wed 1-Dec-2004

Preparations progressing for United Airlines flight to St. Maarten

PHILIPSBURG--Preparations are in full swing for the first United Airlines (UA) flight to St. Maarten on December 18. Menzies Aviation, the appointed handler, has outsourced passenger handling to Halley Aviation Services. Also on December 18, Air Canada (AC) starts its weekly flight from Toronto and Sky Services and Air Transat in Canada increase their flights.

Menzies decided to subcontract Halley Aviation Services because the latter has sufficient counter space, which Menzies doesn't have available at this moment, explained Menzies General Manager Satesh Hemraj. Halley Aviation is the former handling agent of Air France. That counter space will now be used for United. The airline will have a fully automated check-in system.

According to Hemraj, the airline is "very detailed" in its security measures. Security will be outsourced, he said. "We are still in process to award that to one of the local security companies," he added. Menzies will do the ground handling for United.

Hemraj is positive that the United Airlines flight from Chicago on Saturdays will succeed. "It is very good demographically because almost all airlines that service St. Maarten come from the East Coast. The Chicago area is new to us and I expect the direct flights to be popular," he told The Daily Herald.

United will fly once a week until April, when the high season ends. But Hemraj is hopeful that the airline will increase flights once it has seen the good load factors. United uses a Boeing 757 aircraft for the Chicago-St. Maarten-Chicago flights.

Hemraj said considering the feedback he was getting from United, bookings initially were a bit slow, but reservations have increased. "There are good expectations," he said. He called for a joint marketing programme. "United already has a presence by flying here. With this our name is being advertised in the Chicago area," he said.

Air Canada will also start flying Toronto-St. Maarten-Toronto on December 18, using a Boeing 767-300. The airline used to fly here several years ago. "We have seen from trends that the Canadian market is a very strong market for us," said Hemraj.

Sky Services will go to two flights in the weekend as of December 18 and Air Transat will execute three flights a week this high season. These airlines, although they are charters, don't only fly in the high season, which proves that Canada is indeed a "strong market," according to Hemraj. Sky Services has flown 11 out of the 12 months of 2004 with a weekly flight and Air Transat flew once a week all through the summer.

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