St. Maarten granting its first economic licence for an airline since becoming a country is no doubt big news. SXM Airways got the nod of approval from the Civil Aviation Department but also the Central Bank, which deemed the company’s overall plan feasible, with the required means to cover the initial six months of operation.
Obtaining an air operator certificate (AOC) needed to actually fly commercially is the next step. The intention to start with a nine-seat aircraft and deliver on-demand charter service to surrounding islands in any case seems like a realistic approach.
However, the goal is obviously to add more planes and flights in the near future. The latter would be most welcome, as regional airlift has been far from ideal of late, with InselAir but also LIAT experiencing problems.
Important is that this involves private initiative and Government plays only a facilitating role. Experience particularly in the Caribbean has shown that the use of public funds for so-called national carriers is ill-advised.
But if SXM Airways – or any other local airline – is to help increase access to the destination’s main tourism source market in the US, reversing the downgrading of the airport to Category II by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) remains imperative. That should continue to be given top priority.