Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

To catch up with a question made under the previous article. Why can’t LIAT do what an Air Dominica could do? First of all, the Air Dominica model would be a Dominica owned company and the decisions, schedules and destinations are made in Dominica with the aim to specifically serve the needs of Dominica. But…, you might say, the Government of Dominica is a shareholder of LIAT. True, but only a minor shareholder. Should LIAT be blamed? No. LIAT’s aim just like any other airline, is to make a profit, and for sure not to make a loss. Their fleet consists of two types of ATR aircraft with a seat capacity of 48 or 78. Let’s use the 48 model for a calculation. To be profitable, a passenger load is desired to be 85% or 40 passengers (pax) for each flight in AND out of Dominica.

The Air Dominica model foresees 16 flights daily; 8 outbound and 8 inbound). That means that it needs 16x 40 is 660 pax if the smaller one of the LIAT ATR was used for such a schedule. The Air Dominica model uses an 18-seat pax aircraft. 85% here means 15-16 pax multiplied by 16 x 15/16 which is 248 pax. What is a more likely currently availability, 660 or 248 pax? Mind that if a demand is higher, the flight frequency of the smaller aircraft could be increased when there is profitability.  An ATR cannot land at Canefield airport; the smaller “AirDom”-plane of course can land at either one of the two airports.

As for airports. The neighbor island Guadeloupe has a modern spacious airport and a terminal with five jet bridges to handle large international airliners. Currently, in the off-season time there is only one daily flight to North-America; to Miami. Sure, three daily flights to Paris and of course there is a good reason for those particular flights; it is not just for tourism purposes.

As for hoping that jets from abroad be coming soon or fast. Sometimes the aircraft are available, but not a crew for it. Don’t laugh. An increasing scarcity of qualified pilots is a growing problem worldwide. Not too long ago, I was in discussion with a German contact about having a flight coming to a particular Caribbean destination. The aircraft were available but not the crew. Therefore, among the few options in this hemisphere, they chose the one where filled airplanes were a sure thing.

When Dominica gets its four- or five-star hotel/resorts, how will the guests be arriving. Airlift to a big new international airport? Airlift yes, but airlift is anything from big low-cost carriers (LCC) to private aircraft. Well-to-do people for the more luxury accommodations, don’t like low cost carriers due to the discomfort; they care little about pricing anyway. High-net-worth individuals or ultra-high-net-worth-individuals, or the rich and super rich popularly said, how will they come? Big new international airport? No way big; rather more humble but top-quality!

They will often arrive with private, or business jets. Even a long-range private jet could land on a 1,500mtr/4,500ft runway. The Douglas-Charles airport has a 1,756mtr/5,761ft runway. A long-range jet could come non-stop from as far as the Middle-East. Important is that the airport is up to the highest quality standards. Mediocracy is not accepted. Does it require a big terminal? No. These persons don’t like anything that is related to masses. They just want the shortest way from getting out of their jet to the awaiting ground transportation service to bring them to their residence.

A long-range private/business jet at the USA’s most challenging airport even under the best conditions, Aspen, CO; mountainous area, side winds.

This clientele doesn’t like waiting in line for security or immigration. Spoiled brats or fat cats? Call them what you want.  Research has shown that a private jet when it lands brings US$ 69,000 in expenditures to an island.  About 20% of private jet travelers take at least one experiential trip every year or so, spending an average of US$100,000. Dominica, Nature Island? Adventure Island? The Adventure Travel Trade Association pegs the total market at about US$90 billion with an average spent of about US$3,000 per person and an audience of 30 million consumers, meaning that even though the very rich account for less than a half of one percent of total travelers, they generate nearly 5% of the 90 billion revenue.

What do other visitors spend? According a recent comment by the Bahama’s Minister of Tourism and Aviation, stayover passengers on average spend US$ 1,000 per stay and cruise ship passengers US$ 70 per day. There are two things to keep realistically in mind. There is no such a thing as opening a can of airplanes coming to Dominica, be it private or scheduled commercial jets. It a well-known fact in the world of aviation that no one comes because of an airport, they come because of what a destination has to offer.

Food for thought of how big a new international should be to meet the need of different types of clientele. You can decide for yourself. Several things should be considered. The demands of the visitor’s air transportation. Further, the product that a territory has to offer (tourism product). Of course, the costs for a new airport or for airport upgrade as an alternative. Mind that the higher the development costs, most likely the higher the airfares, because someone has to pay the bill (think passenger/visitor taxes). Increasing the airfare costs, could result in lowering the chances that the visitors will come, because the competition may be less expensive. Plus, the desired inter-island traffic by the “locals” may become too pricey.


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

Second part: Alternative Airlift for Dominica

Fourth Part: Last comments on airlift and airport in Dominica


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.