COMMENTARY: Last comments on airlift and airport in Dominica

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.

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  1. R A Mitchell
    September 4, 2018

    Is this going to be another Ross University -opportunity which we will miss in Dominica?
    Mr Skerrit, it is time to wake up and put Dominica on the map, making access to Dominica from Europe, Canada, the USA easy and quick.

    This is cheaper than building an international airport, which we may not be able to afford now.

    Do not let the opportunity for having a helicopter service go away.

    Let us not make too many mistakes again. Please Sir.

  2. Joseph John
    September 2, 2018

    What our “experts” should do is to study the vertical take off of the new Boeing 747, the short landing cargo panes of France and the short landing and take of Avroes of Brazil. All those journalistic presentations do not seem to inspire or motivate anyone so they should take it upon themselves as “experts” with development ideas to convert these idea into actions of realizations or their contributions will be just “talk” . Talk that will just go from one ear through the other.
    Form a private travel company and exploit all possibilities of investments, including foreign assistance in planes , equipment and tech assistance. Do something, tie into government policies for the tourist and travel industry. Remember as “experts” you do not have to be in government to DO SOMETHING.

  3. DA Leaks
    September 1, 2018

    I know from an insider that Robert Tonge ordered the study and it should be made available to the public for review and constructive feedback. This study was paid for out of the treasury and so the people have a right to review/examine its content.

    September 1, 2018

    Well mouth open and ´tory jump out!
    I know from an insider that Robert Tonge ordered the study. Tonge for town publish the study for all to see.

  5. SkerritMustGo
    September 1, 2018

    Could the minister of Tourism, DASPA, and the head of government release the feasibility study paid for with money from treasury? This study belongs to the people of this country and should be made available to everyone giving all, the opportunity to read and discuss its contents. It would be wise to provide the public at least with some basic operational, financial and environmental facts about this so called airport the government is dangling to gain votes. Dominicans better wake up and just get theses people out.

  6. Bring back the kidnapped parrots
    August 31, 2018

    Instead of an international airport the priority should be to lengthen the runway at Mel Ville hall to at least 7,000 feet by going out into the Atlantic if need be using dirt and rock from the west end.

      September 2, 2018

      What about the Canefield Airport? It can be lengthened also if it is realined going out by the basketball court.

  7. August 31, 2018

    Looking forward to support and travel on Air Dominica.

  8. Anthony P. Ismael Minister of Free Pampers
    August 31, 2018

    Now that the island recently lost 30% of is GDP with the departure of Ross University, much needed infrastructural development will be severely compromised, moving forward. Furthermore, if an Air Dominica was remotely successful, LIAT would destroy it in a heartbeat, because it owns the rights to fly into its destinations, because of the complex monopoly (Public/Private Partnership) in the region. That will not change anytime soon. Despite my enthusiasm for improved air lift on the Nature Isle, my outlook for the island remains “Bleak,” because the major structural impediments that I previously mentioned, have not been addressed by successive governments on the island.

  9. Anthony P. Ismael Minister of Free Pampers
    August 31, 2018

    Thus far the government has spent a total of EC$180,000,000.00 on Melville Hall. They spent EC$110,000,000.00 on upgrades a few years ago. They spent an additional EC$70,000,000.00 in successive repairs after major storms and hurricanes. I don’t have the exact figures for a new airport at my disposal, but I know that it is cost ineffective to keep spending money on Melville Hall, while failing to address the structural flaws of the airport design. Engineers who signed off on rerouting a river near the airport which has and will continue to lead to major flooding during heavy rains, should have been jailed and sentenced to a term of “Hard-Labor.” You must understand that the “Ruling Business Elites” have and continues to keep Dominica behind for selfish personal gains. For example, passengers from cancelled flights are forced to travel back to Roseau for overnight stay on winding country roads, as the ruling class hoteliers have these contracts with the airlines locked up like a…

  10. Anthony P. Ismael Minister of Free Pampers
    August 31, 2018

    “Echo Tourism” caters to “Rabid Environmentalist” who enjoy roughing it out on their vacations in a prehistoric-like living arrangement. This is only a tiny fraction of the tourism market. With this approach, we saw poorly constructed guest houses and trails designed for the “Very Able and Fit.” Proper restroom facilities were omitted form the thinking and design of these facilities. Cost per mile of new roads is expensive compared to our neighbors, because of excavation work. When you add poor engineering design and lack of modern construction and excavation equipment on the island, coupled with the dismantling of our own Public Works Department, you lose local engineering expertise and the ability to reduce cost of constructing new infrastructural projects. Hence, you wind up with foreign companies as your main architects of these projects, with the locals serving as mere “Subcontractors.”

  11. Anthony P. Ismael Minister of Free Pampers
    August 31, 2018

    I have flown in and out of Dominica as a passenger on the twin engine Commander Aircraft delivering currency just me and the lone pilot. I have also flown to Dominica on the Twin Otter with P&W J30 piston driven engines. I must tell you that these were some of the most horrible aircraft experiences of my life. Bombardier’s Dash 8 de Havilland and the ATR Turbo Prop aircraft both offer superior passenger comfort than the previously mentioned aircrafts. Now that we have that out of the way, we have a major structural issue with both airports on the island. Canefield is “Death Trap” situated between two mountains with high winds blowing from West to East and Melville Hall, minus the new name, is also poorly aligned. The cross winds are unsafe and we had to turn back to nearby airports many times, because of these tail winds. We were led astray by Athie Martin who promoted “Niche Market Tourism,” because of a few wooden villas that he constructed in the South of the island.

      September 2, 2018

      True. But CANEFIELD AIRPOET TDCF Isn’t a “DEATH TRAP”. It’s just the winds that mess thing up some times. Iy happens all over the world.

  12. Anthony P. Ismael Minister of Free Pampers
    August 31, 2018

    I must commend you for your thoughtful and professionally written articles. Let me say that it is my hope that you continue to write and publish these articles as your expertise is easily recognized in the aviation industry. A friend of mine once described the Caribbean Islands as designed by a “Slave Plantation Owner,” with the capital of these islands marked as the “Main House” and the surrounding villages as the “Field.” Dominica is no exception to this design and thinking. Our topography coupled with high annual rainfall serves as a “Double Whammy.” I made the comment about a “Medium Sized jet out of Miami International” with the full knowledge that it will not fly into Dominica next week, but as a look to the future, while keeping the present issues in mind.

  13. derp
    August 31, 2018

    “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.”

    ah ah ah!

  14. Looking
    August 31, 2018

    I commented on one of DNO’s posts in which the Honorable PM was pointing out that much is happening in the Portsmouth area and the hotels will do the trick in replacing Ross. This is not going to be the case in the short run. Dominica is lagging way behind in terms of air access. Its practically not feasible to build an airport at this time. We should have continued the plans of the UWP, we should have gotten the Venezuelan and Cuban military to help with getting at least the airstrip. It did not happen. Our hotels are not going to be filled unless we can really market the island. Its going to be a hard long and difficult road. We need all hands on deck, astute leadership and huge sacrifices.

  15. Nrt
    August 31, 2018

    Last comments? What Bud are you retiring? Different views are needed to shape our future, but we need an international airport pander.

  16. Truth Be Told
    August 31, 2018

    “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?” said Cdr. Bud Slabbaert.
    So please tell me, as suggested above, why can’t the Government promote and engage Dominicans in more policy debate and public consultation on these pertinent public policy decisions in Dominica? Why don’t we the people demand more and better governance?
    As always, thank you Cdr. Bud Slabbaert, for being on target with your deliberations. Sadly, Dominica and Dominicans now have the Government that they deserve! Sad state of affairs!

  17. Paul Rossnof
    August 31, 2018

    Sir, I can’t help but thinking, that contrary to your statement, you are looking to set up a business but don’t have the resources to finance it. Having said that I agree that Dominica doesn’t need, nor could it afford an international airport. Your business model to me looks workable and in essence would give Dominica what LIAT is incapable of giving Dominica.

    • LifeandDeath
      August 31, 2018

      Send him your e-mail. You could get in on the business too.
      Many successful businesses start without owners capital. And that is why I think there should be an equitable approach to capital funding from the CBI money, made available to every right thinking Dominican..Let there be proposals annually from Locals, and let there be a panel to receive and listen to a pitch on the idea from the owners.
      Then A competent Board will decide on who wins projects and experts can work with the locals to develop the ideas into working businesses that will benefit the Individuals and Dominica in the long-run.
      There should be a comprehensive approach to establishing a component for starter capital from the CBI, just an arbitrary quote, say EC$5m annually at a concessionary rate of borrowing for MERIT based projects. So in this case if 2 competent Dominicans want to improve airlift, then they could at least get some starting Capital here. More Dominicans need to get Rich. That is a problem in DA…

      • Nacinimod
        September 1, 2018

        Fortunately or unfortunately that is what the AIB bank is for, to provide seed money for such ventures.

    • Ti Garcon
      August 31, 2018

      From his statement, He’s a consultant, with no history of owning and managing airline businesses. That’s two different things. He regularly posts regionally, and has previous posts on DNO for the past couple years. Giving someone advice does not mean they want something from that person.

      • RandyX
        September 4, 2018

        No?? So all those consultancy companies consult for free?? You should not comment on here on subjects that you have not got a clue about. Sometimes it’s better to be quit…

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