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HomeNewsArchivesAIRLINE WANTS TO MAKE ST. CROIX ONE OF ITS HUBS

AIRLINE WANTS TO MAKE ST. CROIX ONE OF ITS HUBS

Aug. 16, 2001 – St. Croix would become the hub for air operations between the mainland and points south if Sun Airways, which stated its case before the Port Authority governing board on Wednesday, is approved to operate in the territory.
Bruce M. Casner, Sun Airways chairman, was introduced to the board by Sen. David Jones, a longtime supporter of bringing off-island investment to the territory.
Casner told the board, meeting on St. Thomas, of plans to make St. Croix the airline's hub for an ambitious schedule. He said Sun Airways expects to transport some 215,000 passengers in its first "mature" year of operation.
A former Washington, D.C., transportation lobbyist, Casner said he foresees the expanded Henry E. Rohlsen Airport as the transit center for air traffic between certain U.S. mainland gateway cities and down island and Latin America. The airline plans to have another hub in Puerto Rico, he said.
Casner noted that American Airlines now dominates the U.S. mainland-Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico traffic, with about 70 percent of the total market. However, he added, American has reduced its number of flights, and this has caused major concern for hotels in the territory.
"We've studied everything about this market that exists," he said. New business investment in the territory is deterred by inadequate air transport capacity, he said.
"Look at the empty ticket counters at the airport now, the empty gates," he said. "We could fill those up with passengers connecting to other flights and those staying in the V.I." He stressed that there is a market for competition with American Airlines, which he charged has "damaged much of its customer base in the Caribbean from poor customer service."
With seven round-trip flights weekly, Casner said, Sun Airways would provide about 34 percent of the available seats from Washington's Dulles Airport to the territory, and the only non-stop service from Orlando. The airline plans to serve European passengers who come to Orlando to visit Disney World and the other theme parks there, he said.
The airline plans to establish maintenance centers, air cargo distribution centers, fueling facilities and an aviation training school, he said.
Asked by board member and Attorney General Iver Stirdiron if the Puerto Rico hub wouldn't compete with the one on St. Croix, Casner said the airline would need Puerto Rico to support its operations. Stridiron commented that airlines have come to the territory before, only to default to the Puerto Rico market. Casner insisted his plans wouldn't allow that, saying the St. Croix hub would provide an "escape valve" for the overcrowded airports of San Juan and Miami.
Because of time constraints in his appearance before the board, Casner said, he didn't get into the airline's financial picture. He said he would submit a financial statement to the board. He also said Golden Gaming LLC, which has a casino application before the Casino Control Commission, "is willing to put some dollars into Sun Airways."
Jones said the airline wasn't asking for anything more from the Port Authority at present than an acceptance of its plan. The board agreed to take it under consideration.

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