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Printed in The Daily Herald, Thu 17-Apr-2003

Sunday's inaugural flight Air Sint Maarten cancelled

PHILIPSBURG--Air Sint Maarten has been forced to cancel its inaugural flight for this Sunday, because it has no aircraft to fly from Amsterdam to St. Maarten and back. A kingdom airline will be making an offer to execute flights in the near future, possibly even next week.

Negotiations with Air Holland about possible execution of flights for Air Sint Maarten were abandoned because the former doesn't have an adequate aircraft, stated Air Sint Maarten's Managing Director Terrance Rey on Wednesday.

Aircraft, according to a new regulation issued by the US and Canadian governments on April 1, apparently need to have a reinforced door between the cabin and the cockpit on certain routes as a anti-terrorism preventive measure.

The only alternative to making use of Air Holland's aircraft would be to fly via Dakar in North Africa and Brazil. "We don't want to put our passengers through that," said Rey.

Another carrier with ties to the kingdom, the name of which Rey didn't want to mention, has shown willingness to execute flights for Air Sint Maarten. The airline, which carries out transatlantic flights, would have to request permission to land in St. Maarten from Antillean aviation authorities.

Landing at Schiphol Airport wouldn't be a problem, since it flies into that airport on a regular basis. The airline will be drawing up an offer shortly, which, if acceptable to Air Sint Maarten, could result in more serious negotiations. At the earliest the first flight could be executed next week, said Rey.

The flights via a charter company in Great Britain had to be cancelled because that carrier has no rights on the Amsterdam-St. Maarten route. Dutch aviation authorities didn't grant the charter company the necessary permits.

In addition, Air Sint Maarten has no official status as airline. Antillean aviation authorities stated that they had never received a request for a permit to land in St. Maarten. Dutch aviation authorities called it "premature and business-wise sloppy" to sell tickets without having the necessary permits.

Rey claimed on Tuesday that Royal Dutch Airline KLM had used its influence to stop Air Sint Maarten from flying. He told KLM that if it had any objections, it should take over his passengers and fly them to St. Maarten. He even threatened to force this on KLM through a court injunction.

A court injunction, however, would take too much time and it would be hard to have a ruling before Sunday, Rey said. But, he added, his lawyer would be looking into possibilities to have KLM's right to veto issuance of air traffic permits on the transatlantic route eliminated. "That right is outdated and doesn't stimulate tourism," said Rey.

He said "his" 300+ passengers remained enthusiastic about going to St. Maarten for Carnival. For those who need to travel to the island this Sunday, alternatives are being sought, for example on Air France and DCA.

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