COMMENTARY: More about Dominica airlift and airports

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.

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  1. Anthony P. Ismael Minister of Free Pampers
    August 27, 2018

    Anyone who is proposing a fleet of Twin Otter Aircraft equipped with Pratt and Whitney JW 30 piston driven engines that feels like you’re sitting in ear-drubbing noise for 45 minutes, must not have flown in one these aircrafts recently. Unfortunately, we do not have the type of leadership required to study issues, listen to consultants, the traveling public and make recommendations as needed. The empty political noise will do nothing, but to keep Dominica backward with little or no progress. The author also did not consider the length of vacation for US travelers. Travelers want to maximize their time off without wasting time with connecting flights, delays and purchasing expensive new tickets when flights are missed. Our tourism market is unique, the issues are unique and our solutions must be pragmatic as well thought out. We are atrocious with Foreign Direct Investment. Enhanced air access will help to solve some of these larger issues.

  2. Anthony P. Ismael Minister of Free Pampers
    August 27, 2018

    The author left out another pertinent point. Price! A narrow body jet flying out of Miami International with 150 passengers is far more cost efficient than 15 Twin Otter aircraft at 85% capacity with a max passenger load of 19 passengers. We have that experience now with Seaborne’ s Saab Aircraft that sits 34 depending on seating configuration. As a “Captive Market,” ticket prices will always be higher compared to our neighbors. The median income in the U.S. is $48,000.00 per annum. With our current ticket prices, we’re essentially pricing ourselves out of a substantial piece of the traveling US clientele. The other islands are more experienced than we are with high-end travelers. We have a long way to go, before we can catch up. Everything isn’t Black and White as each market has its own unique challenges. I have mentioned quite a few of them as I know the Dominican Market quite well. As I have said, before, unless we either realign that runway or build a new airport altogether, we…

  3. Anthony P. Ismael Minister of Free Pampers
    August 27, 2018

    And now comes the politics. It was always my hope that Ross would partner with our local hospital and provide emergency medical services to patients if needed. We do not have the medical facilities to treat large numbers of patients in Portsmouth. The road leading to Roseau needs repair and with our constant landslides and hurricanes, they can become impassable at any time. That being said, both Portsmouth and Marigot have to be self-sufficient to provide services for guest and residents of these two villages. Listening to the noise from the powers that be tells us immediately, that this level of strategic thinking for the island is absent both in the planning and execution phase. Nothing will bring an end of our tourism product like increased vehicular accidents and the inability to treat guest medically, should they become ill while on vacation.

  4. Anthony P. Ismael Minister of Free Pampers
    August 27, 2018

    The current terminal design at Melville Hall is atrocious. You do not have a large enough carousel to accommodate increased baggage or a proper V.I.P area designed to accommodate high end guest who expect to be processed quickly and effortlessly. With new hotels coming on stream in Portsmouth, one would hope that passengers from cancelled flights would be accommodated in Portsmouth, instead of traveling on these winding roads back to Roseau. That being said, the road from Portsmouth to Marigot needs to be upgraded to facilitate increased passenger arrival and travel since many of these guests would be venturing to hotels in Portsmouth instead of Roseau. All in all, there is much needed infrastructural development and enhancement required to make Portsmouth a grand success.

  5. Anthony P. Ismael
    August 27, 2018

    Although this article was spot on, there are some pertinent points that were omitted. As presently designed, Melville Hall Airport is unsafe for night landing. U.S. registered aircraft will not permit a water approach into Melville Hall. Twin Otter aircraft are extremely noisy because of the Pratt and Whitney JW 30 piston driven engines. The payload capacity on these aircrafts are very limited and they’re not fuel efficient. That’s why LIAT switched to Dash 8 and then the ATR Turbo Prop aircraft. Anyone remembers waiting for bags from LIAT while on vacation at home? Canefield is very dangerous during Easter with the Trade Winds and general cross blowing from West to East. Tail winds of more than 20 naught will spell disaster for arriving passengers.

  6. Truth to power
    August 27, 2018

    5 MORE years for Skewwo …………………..and five more Airports in the Sky

  7. RasB
    August 26, 2018

    I have long maintained that Dominica does not need an international airport. An international airport as an entity does nothing for Dominica, except to saddle our dwindling economy with an exorbitant bill which our children and grandchildren would have to mortgage their futures to try to repay.

    The idea of the use of small air crafts to transport people to and from Dominica several times a day in a timely manner is the definitive solution to our access needs. We can not rely on Liat, we need our own to transport passengers between the other islands with their major airports and expense to our Dominica.

    Where are the funds coming from to obtain a fleet of small airlines-“Air Dominica”? The Punjab Doctor has been telling us how much money he is putting aside from CBI to build an international airport; could that money be used for the purchase of a fleet of 8 to 10 aircraft? Look at the spin-offs; employment, Upgrade of the airport as it becomes a true hub of activity etc.

  8. Mr.B
    August 26, 2018

    I remember when seaplanes landed at Soufriere. Good idea.

    • Jheri Curl
      August 26, 2018

      How come Mister think he can decide for US whats right for US
      blan moun ka di sa yo vle

  9. RastarMarn
    August 24, 2018

    Very interesting but there are always reasons to think outside the Box,,,

    It appears that there are the powers of Fellows whom are not in favor of the Caribs (All Caribbean Inhabitants of aborigine Descendants ) to prosper and will do whatever it takes to keep Caribbean People at bondage,,, The inhabitants at this region could be self sufficient and be truly independent from the rest of the corruption and mayhem that occurs at those international metropolises,,,

    When taking into consideration Population and census Marn is certain that there are more Caribs’ people making up censuses across the globe compared to the other inhabitants from other Lands,,,

    The System is set up so that the Caribs’ People are obstructed from returning to their Lands, which are arguably the most pristine Lands as we have come to know at this Realm,,,

    Liat has been operating since 1974 you mean to tell RastarMarn they cannot lease a couple Boeing 737 to establish better service to Caribs’…

  10. CB BOSS
    August 24, 2018

    Mr. Slabbaert your knowledge and perspective is well appreciate.

  11. Cyril Volney
    August 24, 2018

    ” 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”. BRILLIANT!

    A Jet strip every 50 miles around Dominica? 100 or less arrivals and departures per day at Douglas Charles?

    What we need is to up our game and live up to the NATURE ISLAND brand.

    • Anthony P. Ismael Minister of Free Pampers
      August 27, 2018

      Review your stay over numbers for the last two years and tell me if you still feel the same way.

  12. Nature Isle
    August 24, 2018

    I was hoping to see more deliberate and well-thought through comments on the viability of this project as an entrepreneurial venture, rather than loose comments about politics and a 60+ year defunct Goose.

  13. Looking
    August 24, 2018

    Excellent and well written piece sir!. So the “soon to be opened” mega resorts are not going to solve our financial woes in the short term. Its going to take some serious planning and execution. its not impossible but we must be prepared to make sacrifices. I have always lamented the fact that we waste too much resources on foolish political campaigns. We need to grow up, mature. It takes every single individual to grow our country.

  14. Nacinimod
    August 24, 2018

    Bud, truer words have never be spoken…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.

  15. Roosie-Pierro Massive
    August 24, 2018

    Good article as usual Bud, but this “international airport” business is not about economics or rational arrival routes and figures. This is about politics.

    The mere mention of an “international airport” means votes from the masses who believe that it is the answer to all of our problems. If we lay down 2500 – 3000 meters of tarmac, the belief is that international flights will flock to Dominica and the diaspora, not to mention the tourists, will get from Boston, New York, Toronto, Miami and London in one hop! It is naive, but it is what people think…and people’s perception is their reality.

  16. Ti Garcon
    August 24, 2018

    I didn’t have to read his credentials to know that he made sense. Guadeloupe has 3 daily flights to France, then y should we bother with Antigua and their late afternoon flight to UK to access Europe. Daily Flight to Miami, y bother with Barbados and San Juan. I bet Jamaica and Trinidad have even more daily options for US Flights, we need direct access to these airports. We cant just be going the same routes over and over and expecting different results.
    Utilizing the Canefield airport makes sense, although I feel that this airport should eventually be closed down.
    Thanks for your advice, I just hope those in power take a listen- or that your investor with the idea for Air Dominica comes though. Stock sales would help raise the needed funds.

  17. Jack Charlton
    August 24, 2018

    Great stuff Cdr. Slabbaert! Ground facilities at Douglas-Charles would need to be expanded greatly to handle and maintain this small fleet of Air Dominica aircraft.

  18. Bring back the kidnapped parrots
    August 24, 2018

    Sea Planes is the answer, Sea planes nicknamed the “Goose” were used to get to Dominica back in the early days like the 1940’s through the 1950,s and used before the airport was constructed at Melville Hall in the 1950’s. They landed in Roseau harbor at cane field. With sea planes you do not have to worry about cross winds. A sea plane service between Dominica, St Lucia, Antigua would be great and passengers would be able to disembark in Roseau or Portsmouth. Sea planes are still widely used in places like Alaska. Skerrit should buy some sea planes using the millions he has gotten from his CBI program.

    • Africo
      August 24, 2018

      Interesting idea but just for the record the seaplane Gruman “Goose” did not land at Roseau and Canefield. They began landing at Portsmouth and then when the majority Roseau travellers complained that it was too far to go by launch, the ‘Goose’ made scheduled flights into Soufriere Bay. Both Portsmouth and Soufriere were chosen because of the calm protected waters necessary for landing and take off.

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