Air Tran Interested in Servicing Sint Maarten;

Low Cost Carrier could start twice weekly flights after acquisition by Southwest

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten – The Director of Route Planning of Air Tran Airways, John Kirby told the Sint Maarten delegation which met with him at the just-concluded Routes Airlines Conference in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic that Sint Maarten has been on the low cost carrier’s radar for the last one and a half to three years.  

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Minister of Economic & Tourism Affairs, Franklin Meyers, who led the Sint Maarten delegation, stressed his interest in partnering with Air Tran to shorten the airline’s projected entry into the destination. He recalled that the Sint Maarten Tourist Bureau has been holding talks with Air Tran for the past two years in a bid to attract the airline to service the destination.

The prospects for this happening are "very high", according to the Minister, especially in view of the fact that Southwest Airlines will soon be acquiring Air Tran in a transaction that is expected to be finalized by May 2, 2011.

"This acquisition will open up opportunities for Sint Maarten as the island diversifies its customer base," Minister Meyers stated. He said both airline companies are low cost carriers known for their excellent service.

According to Director of Tourism, Regina LaBega, who formed part of the Sint Maarten delegation, this potential new service "will provide opportunities to and from Atlanta, Orlando, Baltimore, Washington as well as Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Denver, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and other destinations" where Southwest and Air Tran both service. She noted that Air Tran has a fleet of B717s and is likely to start with a twice weekly service to the island.

One of the possible routes being considered includes Atlanta – Sint Maarten – Orlando, which, according to LaBega, seems to be a good match for the destination.

Minister Meyers stressed the potential for a higher yield, given the hub function of Sint Maarten’s airport while Air Tran’s John Kirby emphasized the need for airport incentive packages. Both parties agreed to meet again shortly after Southwest acquires Air Tran.

In a separate meeting with Southwest airlines, one of the leading and most financially sound carriers in the US for the last decades, Evan Berg, the airline’s Manager of Network Planning, indicated that the opportunities are great for Sint Maarten with the planned acquisition of Air Tran.

He said Air Tran, given its experience in the Caribbean, will continue to provide that service while Southwest will remain focused on the US domestic routes.