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Printed in The Daily Herald, Fri 6-Jun-2003

KLM maintains weekly flight, BonairExel to start later

PHILIPSBURG--For now the Royal Dutch Airline KLM will maintain its weekly flight. This might change later this year, around September, depending on the start-up of BonairExel and St. Maarten's marketing in Holland, said KLM Manager Lars de Brabander on Thursday.

Things are status quo, with KLM executing the weekly flight Amsterdam-St. Maarten-Curacao-Amsterdam on Thursday, explained De Brabander. "In the past we have had two and even three flights to St. Maarten per week, but that turned out to be too much and proved to be an over-capacity."

The reasons for not putting in more flights have always had to do with the fact that there is no strong marketing of St. Maarten in Holland, St. Maarten traditionally not being a potential destination for Dutch tourism, the manager said. "We have always said one flight is no flight. We have been looking very critically at this flight, but we decided to maintain it on the request of the local authorities, the Lt. Governor and the Tourism Commissioner."

Whether the number of flights will increase depends on the success of BonairExel, said De Brabander. Airexel, with which BonairExel has a lease agreement, already has two ATR aircraft stationed at Flamingo Airport. The start-up of operations, however, has been stalled because the airline needs so-called airline operating certificates, which the federal Civil Aviation Department in Curacao still has to issue.

BonairExel should start by the middle of this month with flights between Bonaire and Curacao. Once it is up and running, two more planes, Embraer jets, will be deployed for the route Bonaire-St. Maarten. The Embraer 145s, which have a capacity of 50 passengers, would fly regularly, at least once a day, between Bonaire and St. Maarten to accommodate passengers who are flying to and from Amsterdam.

Through BonairExel, KLM will be able to promote St. Maarten better, said De Brabander, who dismissed the argument that KLM should maintain its weekly flight. "You have to look at this in broader perspective. You shouldn't only look at that one big blue bird landing at the airport. You should look at 14 smaller blue birds landing each week, promoting St. Maarten more effectively."

De Brabander didn't want to speculate on a date that BonairExel would start executing flights to St. Maarten. But, he added, "in September we should be ready." He also couldn't say anything on what would happen to the weekly flight with the Boeing 747, only that the weekly flight would be part of the total discussions on how often and with what type of aircraft KLM would service St. Maarten.

A lot also depends on marketing, said the manager. The St. Maarten delegation and KLM Director Van Wijk had agreed during talks in Holland earlier this year that the island territory would initiate a joint marketing plan. KLM is also discussing forms of cooperation with Winair.

Asked whether KLM is considering executing direct flights by making use of the Airbus 340, like Air France, De Brabander said KLM would also be acquiring this type of aircraft that has the possibility of flying directly to Europe. No decision has been taken, however, whether these new aircraft will be deployed in the Caribbean.

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