Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

I had only intended to write three informative articles on airport and airlift matters concerning Dominica. Yet, it is only fair to make oneself available when comments or questions are posted, and so, here is number four, the last one. There now is enough information for each to form their own opinion.

One comment suggested that a particular kind of government funding should be used for the purchase of a fleet of 8 to 10 aircraft for a potential Air Dominica. Although the enthusiasm is appreciated, it would neither be a prudent nor a wise decision. First of all, the Air Dominica model foresees to start with just two aircraft that could well fulfill the immediate need for eight daily flights (one morning, one afternoon) to four destinations. Depending on the success and demand for more capacity, additional aircraft could be acquired, and the schedule could be extended. One step at the time; how far those steps are apart will be determined by the results. Even if one has the money available, one should still be prudent on how to invest it and not take risks.

The Air Dominica model foresees Dominican ownership of the air transportation operation, but not necessarily government ownership. Cooperation, yes. A Public-Private-Partnership could be an option.

There are always ways to optimize a model after serious deliberation between experts and competent partners. I am sorry that I cannot reveal more than I know about the Air Dominica model. I would welcome it if the study, which is “on-island” in Dominica, was actually published. In my view, it would be in the interest of the country, its economy and its community. But.., who am I to say? For one, once published, a more open discussion could explore how this model could be implemented. What is wrong with that? If the model wouldn’t find the right support, no problem, then the option can be taken off the table. There is nothing wrong with opening a dialog and exploring. Corrections for optimization could be made. That is the usual path towards progress.

Proposed schedule for Air Dominica

Another comment suggested 150 pax jets from Miami. A 150-passenger jet from Miami is not going to come in the next two-three years regardless of cost-effectiveness until there is an airport improvement, whatever such may be. Then it still has to be seen whether such connection is feasible from the perspective of an airline.  They aim to be profit making, are risk adverse, and they don’t do favors. What a destination has to offer is more of interest to a vacationer. Try to compete with the nearby Orlando area and its Disneyland, Universal Studios, a wide range of entertainment facilities and hotel accommodations, generous and safe road infrastructure, etc. A short hop from Miami to the Bahamas which has the US preclearance advance, may also be more attractive. One has to deal with the current immediate needs, options and realities. When dealing with short-term needs, any comments that go beyond, may be good for long term planning but are distracting at this time. One should not get into long-term matters when one is not, or has not been able to deal with short-term needs. When a ship is sinking one should think about swimming to safety first before thinking of getting a bigger ship.

Are seaplanes THE solution? They are an interesting air transportation alternative but in no way the solution that Dominica currently needs. First of all, the remembrances of the seaplanes of the past. The Grumman Goose was a “flying boat” for about 9 passengers. Confused? A flying boat is considered an aircraft where the hull of the plane lands and floats on the water. It had two small floats on either wing just to prevent from the wingtips touching the water or the aircraft tipping over sideways. The more practical seaplanes of today can seat 8-19 pax. They are almost the same as certain conventional small aircraft that we are familiar with, but the aircraft has two floats where normally the landing gear is, and the hull remains well above the water.

Some may now ask what amphibious aircraft are. Either type of the above aircraft also has a landing gear to land on a paved runway. Thus, either water or pavement are fine. For example, the seaplane on floats could dock at the private pier of Fort Young Hotel, take off and fly passengers from the Hotel directly to Guadeloupe airport and vice versa. Great? Wait until Immigration and Customs officials tell you a different story. Another thing is that operating a seaplane is more expensive in care and maintenance when used in a salt-water environment; it takes a lot of daily cleaning. Seaplanes can be an attractive tourism attraction and one can fly from almost any place of Dominica to another location on the island. If there is a beach area, it can go there. If a passenger wants to be flown to his yacht, it can be done. If it is needed, a brand-new seaplane dock may cost about US$ 50,000. You cannot develop an airport for that kind of money.

A different air transportation alternative is yet overlooked: helicopters. They can land at any designated area in any location, even it was on an appropriate roof. For emergency and rescue operations, they can land on undesignated areas and it is up to the pilot to make that ad-hoc decision. Thinking of a helicopter, one should not be thinking of a four-seater but rather about at least nine persons. It can fly 500 miles. For safety reasons it has dual engines. It can easily be transformed for different purposes. Especially for a territory that is vulnerable for flash flooding and infrastructure damages, having a helicopter immediately available can be useful to say the least.  However, it doesn’t serve the overall needed airlift solution. A foreign company is interested in stationing such a helicopter on Dominica, but their proposal went unanswered. Serious international companies that are treated that way will not return and the word spreads in the industry.

In several comments Dr.Consalves of the SVG is blamed for making a comment at some time, that Dominica does not need a new international airport and that he then built one himself. What if he was right? Because he now is sitting with a cookie of his own dough which is a new expensive airport that is currently far from being a success story to say it diplomatically.

There are two ways to approach the airport issue and I’m presenting them in an analog. A: I want a Rolls-Royce to drive in, so, tell me how to get one. Or B: I need a vehicle that meets the road conditions and my needs for using a car. In case B, the advice may be to get a good SUV (4-wheel drive) which is more functional and a heck of a lot cheaper.

First part of this series : Dominica’s New International Airport

Second part: Alternative Airlift for Dominica

Third Part: More about Dominica Air lift and airports


About the author:

Cdr. Bud Slabbaert is a Belgian national residing on St.Martin. In his own words: “I am retired and not interested in a new career or a new business. I’m only trying to help the region in general to create some understanding about the various dilemmas in the region (not just Dominica). I was just asked by a French company that manages 18 airports to provide consultancy. In the past, I have helped six regional airports in Switzerland with business aviation development. I have given preliminary advice to serious international investors about eight airports (San Diego, Atlanta, London, Germany, Italy and Switzerland). Only one of those airports passed my criteria. It is fun to know a thing or two and try to help others even without compensation or benefits for it.”

Cdr. Bud Slabbaert is the chairman and initiator of the annual Caribbean Aviation Meetup conferences. an international results and solution oriented event that brings airlift stakeholders from both aviation and tourism industry, as well as government authorities together. Mr. Slabbaert’s  background is accentuated by aviation business development, strategic communication, and journalism.

Opinions expressed in this commentary are not necessarily those of Dominica News Online or its advertisers.