Air arrivals to the Virgin Islands are at the highest levels since the mid-1990s, a report by the Texas-based aviation consultants Reynolds, Smith and Hills and issued by the V.I. Port Authority indicated.
Overall air traffic is up by 9.9 percent over the previous fiscal period, the consultants reported. The study covered the Fiscal Year 2012, which ended Sept. 30.
At Cyril E. King airport on St. Thomas, passenger traffic was the highest since 1994. In 2012, a total of 700,550 passengers arrived. At Henry E. Rohlsen airport on St. Croix, the number stood at 224,672, the highest since 2001.
The total number of passengers arriving at each airport was up by almost the same percentage, meaning that both St. Thomas and St. Croix shared equally in the traffic gain.
Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson Doty welcomed the report’s findings in a press release issued Monday, saying she believes the Tourism Department’s efforts to cultivate relations with the airlines were paying dividends.
The consultants wrote: "The poor economy and higher jet fuel prices have caused national air passenger traffic to decline or be flat. This makes the strong increase in 2012 V.I. Port Authority aviation traffic even more remarkable," the consultants said.
Projections for FY 2013 show a 1.4 percentage increase in total weekly seats to St. Thomas from 17,989 to 18,246, while St. Croix’s weekly air capacity is forecast at around 5,219, a less than 10 percent decline over the previous year.
St. Croix’s dip is mainly due to the closure of the Hovensa oil refinery and the resulting discontinuation of the weekly Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta.
"Acting to maintain airlift and spur economic growth in the territory continues to be our top priority as we enter a new calendar year," Doty said, adding that she is cautiously optimistic about the sector as the winter season begins in earnest.
To bolster traffic to St. Croix, the department initiated the St. Croix Fantastic Flight 2013 promotion which features a $300 air credit along with a sixth night free incentive provided by participating hotels.
The promotion is paid for by Tourism from funding allocated for the exclusive marketing and promotion of St. Croix. The booking window is Dec. 15 to Jan. 31 for travel between Jan. 27 and March 24.