COMMENTARY: Alternative for airlift in Dominica

Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

In my previous commentary on a new International airport for Dominica, I provided you with some food for thought regarding cost and revenue. How you digest it and look at it is totally your prerogative. I’m impartial, un-affiliated and have no personal gains or benefits from what will be done in Dominica.

It was probably expected from me to suggest air transportation alternatives.

I start where I ended in my previous column. If you want your international airport, so be it, yet, it will take at least three years for completion and until the first hoped for international jet may be arriving. So, what are you going to do in the meantime to grow your economy and secure your existence? You cannot sit and wait three years. What you need is airlift. There is no use in starting the usual blame games about the why or why not of the current airlift situation. Solutions are needed and needed rapidly.

Did you know that it is feasible to start an Air Dominica airline model with 8 daily flights to Antigua, Barbados, Guadeloupe and Martinique; 4 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon (one of those four destinations could be exchanged for St. Lucia). How long would it take to set up the operation? Six months; could be less. Startup costs? About 500,000 US$. The airline model should be profit making. Bluff? Hot air? Phantasy?

A feasibility study was done two years ago by an independent airline expert who developed the airline model. The study is at a location in Dominica. I will not reveal who owns the study or where it is. I know the content but will not disclose any details. The well-done study considers all the various cash flow and load factor situations. Maybe just two numbers of the study to think about: 13,000+ new passenger arrivals which could mean about US$ 12 million new spending in Dominica. Unfortunately, I cannot go into further details as I don’t own the rights to the study or the model. And btw, I have no intention of being part of any airline or airport operation.

Some may now be stuck with a dilemma. Waiting 3 years and spending 300 million US$ or getting started with five hundred thousand within 6 months and achieving 12 mio in new spending by tourists. Depending on demand and success of the airline, its schedule could be extended.

The rendering shows that smaller airplanes are used that can land at Canefield Airport, That means that visitors, business people, government officials in Roseau have a short way to their flight connections. Canefield would become a busy airport that might be operated with an annual profit instead of the current annual loss. It may need more employees. The airport food stand can be open and taxis should be awaiting the arriving passengers.

Of course, comments against using a small airport and using small aircraft will now be posted. Go ahead. Just keep the following in mind.

St.Barth is probably the most flourishing and wealthiest of all islands in the region. They are doing so well that they don’t want mass tourism and cruise ships. And they don’t want more tourist than they currently have. Most passengers arrive via the hub St.Maarten.  It does have its own airport, but the runway is considered one of the 10 most challenging runways in the world. Only small airplanes (18 seats). How does it compare with Canefield’s runway? It is 300mtr/1000ft shorter. Yet…, St.Barth’s airport handles 90,000 passengers annually. Compare that with Canefield (est. 2,000 pax) or Douglas-Charles (est. 103,000 pax).  St.Barth’s annual average number of daily flights is about 97 movements (-arrival and departure). During the high season on a peak day the number is 200 movements and the peak hour 38 movements.

So, don’t laugh or underestimate what is small. The St.Barth example should be a message to the “can’t be done/can be done” people; even with a small airport, it can be done.

As for the often-hailed Argyle airport. Reports indicate that the 2017 stayover visitors arriving by air on the mainland of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) was 3.5 percent lower than the year before. An unconfirmed report indicates that a meagre one percent of expected 2018 stayover visitors will be foreign tourists who would not have visited the mainland if Argyle airport had not been built. This works out to a pitiful 1,000 people. It took nine years to build Argyle airport at an estimated cost of 370 million US$. So, if St.Vincent can have it, why can’t Dominica have it?  Just more food for thought!


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

Third Part: More about Dominica air lift and airports

Fourth Part: Last comments on airlift and airport in Dominica


Cdr. Bud Slabbaert is the chairman and initiator of the annual Caribbean Aviation Meetup conferences. The international results and solution oriented event 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.

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  1. DA man
    August 20, 2018

    St barth is a french island what guy saying is nonsense

  2. Dbda
    August 19, 2018

    JESUS Christ man!! So people should keep flying to Barbados, st Lucia, Antigua and San Juan just to get to dominica. It takes me 2 to 3 days and 3 airlines to get there. Wow, let’s keep flying vintage aircraft while our neighbours leap into the future!

  3. watch dog
    August 19, 2018

    Sad to see that some of you do not have the basic common sense to understand what the gentle man is saying. He used the small island as a comparison which makes so much sense. Are you al aware as to how long I have been hearing about an international airport. Freedom party UWP not Labor in for almost 18 years. Dominica will not improve as long as we remain uneducated. Perfect example. The Mr Isaac had so much to say about the PM who convinced followers that they were corrupt, today he is in the same company. Really Dominicans. I have no sympathy for you all nor country.

  4. natus 1
    August 19, 2018

    I’m a Dominican expat, and I never miss an occasion to boast the natural rugged beauty, (post Maria)friendliness and easy going islanders. One family took this invitation and made Dominica their holiday destination. On their return I asked for a feedback, and his reply was: Amigo everything you said was true, but I have just one question. A rich man going to Dominica would like to spend/blow some money, on what is he going to spend it? To which I asked, short term or long term, He said short term, the man is on vacation. I did not have an answer. He said to me, you know the family is large, we liked the bread and went to a bakery and ordered a large amount, we were told, we can’t give you all that, we have to leave for other customers. Food for thought, What services do we have to provide to visitors prior to their arrival?

  5. Neal
    August 18, 2018

    The people have to think, we need to stimulate the economy and we need to do so right now. The gentleman was never saying that we can’t or shouldn’t have an international airport . The discussion is whether mere construction of an airport is going to the economy. Case in point st-vincent.
    The observations by the the gentleman here using also the example of st-bart is to show that it’s not just the infrastructure that needs to be focused on but rather the product, that we have to offer, and making the product accessible today by those willing to take advantage of it. Therefore if we can increase the number of flights and people into Dominica thus making the desire for an international airport a need

    • August 20, 2018

      The economies of the Caribbean islands need to be more diversified. They are too heavily dependent on tourism. Their economies need industries like high-tech that will be able to sustain the islands when the high season of tourism subsides yearly. High-tech will also help to stem the tide of intellectual migration.

  6. Jeannoel
    August 18, 2018

    Very interesting, as a people we need put our ideas
    Together for the betterment of DOMINICA and it’s Economy
    Food for thought

  7. August 18, 2018

    If LIAT could just be persuaded to focus on the needs of its customers, all would be well.

    For example, LIAT should schedule its flights for the convenience of its customers, connecting with transatlantic arrivals and departures at Antigua and Barbados airports.

    LIAT should resolve the issue with BA that prevents luggage being checked through from Dominica to London Gatwick.

    Sadly I fear LIAT is incapable of changing and so the only logical solution is DOMAIR as suggested by this article.

  8. August 17, 2018

    Beware people of sheep in wolve clothing. Why are you wasting energy giving this devil ideas for his conspiracy. We the people of Dominica will do what is right for Dominica. DNO stop stirring the pot. Do not encourage nay sayers. Let us find relevant topics to help the suffering people of Dominica. We are not from St. Barth,s. (St. Bat).

    • Gary
      August 18, 2018

      People like you would not recognize the real devil with his ideas presented to you. When you say quote “We the people of Dominica will do what is right for Dominica” this is such narrow thinking. Here you have someone presenting facts and ideas regarding a national issue we are faced with and you are saying that we should not encourage naysayers, very sad indeed.

      • August 18, 2018

        Gary that’s just what it is, facts and ideas. Can you go beyond facts and ideas. Put your money where your mouth is and stop your disrespect. Get up and do some work instead of your insults. We can’t all be like you can’t we. Keep to your facts cause you know no one is listening to you.

    • god way
      August 20, 2018

      I agree begins at home

  9. thinking idiot
    August 17, 2018

    Commander I thank you for your thoughts and trying your best to educate my people. Unfortunately most of them are brainwashed by the current leadership where they do not think of anything for themselves until Ol’ Fearless leader opens his mouth to spit.

    The few of us who do think for ourselves tho appreciate your thought and knowledge passed on. Keep up the great work.

    –thinking idiot
    if they do it often it’s not a mistake it’s just their behavior — Steve Maraboli

  10. August 17, 2018

    Thanks to people like yourself Bud, commercial aviation is attracting lots of new attention within the region.
    It is however going to take a new type of business model to deliver outcomes private sector investors expect and demand.
    Regional governments are cash strapped and debt financing of large public sector infrastructure projects expected to not cripple local economies and populations, as you have also recommended.
    The solution, again as you are eluding to, is a “System of systems” approach, whereby the whole eastern Caribbean family of nations choose to collaborate to leverage their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, independent of national rivalries.
    It takes a team effort to win in global tourism and international business and the best approach from which to deliver a desired result for all, is one which takes to heart, not to do what is best for one’s self but what delivers the most for the group as a whole.

  11. Ti Garcon
    August 17, 2018

    I would support such as venture, if the startup cost is so low, then it would be easy to raise funds form the local economy via stocks. Any Gov’t involvement would hamper progress- look at LIAT!
    It makes sense, as the only complaint most people have about access to Dominica is the limited options, and having to overnight (adds 12-16hrs and US$100’s to the journey!).

    The problem I’ve noticed with locals is that they believe having an IA will automatically give us direct flights to anywhere we want to go to in the world. WRONG!!!! There are no direct flights to UK from St Kitts- they still have to connect via Antigua. Having lived in Phoenix, Denver, ABQ in the US, you almost ALWAYS have to have had a connecting flight if it wasn’t a neighboring state or to a regional hub. Its the same in the Caribbean. Are there direct flights from St. Lucia to Grenada or to Antigua? Flight connections are the norm, we just need the overnight problem solved.

  12. Fitzroy Lawrence
    August 17, 2018

    Let’s face it, the metamorphosis of globalization is upon us. People, companies, and nations are integrating and interacting more. The movements of services and goods globally requires logistical infrastructure that would accommodate the rapid pace of an integrated world. Hence, an international airport is a major apparatus of a nation’s infrastructure to generate economic activities — such as international trade and tourism. International airports offer increased accessibility, which in turn fuels the tourism sector. With an increase in the number of visitors and airport users, more money flows into the local economy.

    • Gary
      August 18, 2018

      You sound like the typical bureaucrat following the script. Who hijacked your ability to think, wow. You seem to forget what it is to be pragmatic.

  13. Sewo NYC
    August 17, 2018

    Let’s face it, the metamorphosis of globalization is upon us. People, companies, and nations are integrating and interacting more. The movements of services and goods globally requires logistical infrastructure that would accommodate the rapid pace of an integrated world. Hence, an international airport is a major apparatus of a nation’s infrastructure to generate economic activities — such as international trade and tourism. International airports offer increased accessibility, which in turn fuels the tourism sector. With an increase in the number of visitors and airport users, more money flows into the local economy.

  14. StrongerTogether
    August 17, 2018

    Work with the new party pod at least she is open to these kind of ideas

  15. foreign observer
    August 17, 2018

    My first trip to Dominica was July 1990 – to Canefield in a Twin Otter. Have also flown into St. Barts in a Twin Otter, and across the Arctic in a Twin Otter. Twin Otters are used for evacuation flights in the Antarctic. They’re 18-seaters, exactly as the author has proposed. For many years, they were the work horses of the LIAT fleet, sturdy, reliable, go just about anywhere aircraft. Why have they disappeared from the Caribbean? Reintroducing them, especially for the Dominca (DCF) airlifts makes sense.

    Was in Dominica for Jazz ‘n’ Creole in May, had to overnight in Barbados – because the last northbound LIAT flight had departed about 90 minutes before I finished clearing customs. Why can’t LIAT adjust its schedule to depart Barbados after the arrival of long-haul flights from Canada and UK? They’re on the ground by 4pm (usually earlier) and even a 5 pm departure arrives in DOM before dark. Or introduce conjunction tickets and baggage transfer to speed up the connection…

  16. LifeandDeath
    August 17, 2018

    So this option is reminiscent of Hummingbird Air, and the other small airlines that popped up and failed in recent time.
    The difference is that hopefully it will have Gov’t financial support. But this model will need a lot of effort, expertise and financial depth..

    • Ti Garcon
      August 17, 2018

      Hummingbird Air was not only a smaller aircraft, it didnt fly in the more popular routes. It was just a toy of Sam Raphael.
      Long story short- it didn’t have the minimum required economies of scale. To make this work, maybe 4-8 small aircraft is required, flying at times outside of LIAT’s, specifically scheduled to eliminate the overnighting issue which for all intended purposes- the only solid reason for an international airport. So we could have planes flying specific late afternoon runs from Antigua, San Juan, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and the like to not open us up to more regional trade, but airline options to outside the region.

  17. August 17, 2018

    I would be delighted to see this. If a competent management team took on such a project, and the business plan were sound, then finding that sort of investment wouldn’t be difficult.

    • Ti Garcon
      August 17, 2018

      for such a small project you don’t need a management ‘TEAM’. usually too many cooks, trying to make a living on meager company returns, spill the pot. Just need 1-3 LONG term investors, pilots and minimum require staff.

      • ehbeh
        August 18, 2018

        really? a management team would be very beneficial to even hotdog stands. but maybe you got the degree in management and not me. minding my business.

      • Ti Garcon
        August 19, 2018

        The problem with small islands with ‘management teams’ is that there are boards with 6-8 people wanting salaries of $2k+ per month and they make no direct contribution to the company. These same businesses employ under 10 people with salaries under $1.5k a month- basically to often the management costs are higher than employee wages which puts unnecessary strain on new companies.
        And if you need a management team to run a hotdog stand its best you just burn the money. that only needs one person who is the owner/ manager/ sole employee.

  18. Bring back the kidnapped parrots
    August 17, 2018

    Years ago Dominica was served by sea planes which landed at canfield. A sea plane service would work and would shorten the travel time from Melville hall to Roseau. There are crosswinds at the airport at canfield, this will not have any effect on sea planes. A floating sea plane dock could be easily constructed. The planes can land at Portsmouth or Roseau. The planes do not have to be big, the convenience is what matters getting people to and from Dominica in an efficient manner. Dominica loses out on tourism and visitors because of the conniptions just getting there.

  19. waypapa
    August 17, 2018

    Reggie with his big head and the other empty cabinets they sent to Possie wanted to swallow the pilot that living in Picard for suggesting similar. they brainless and bankrupt of ideas but hey wont listen. They just want to make a big show of nothing and have people bur bru ing dem. Everybody have that cabinet like pappyshow because they are uneducated when it comes to running govt and they are greedy. If they cant profit under the table they not interesting. Stay there still and make them rich while we turn to Venezuela.

  20. August 17, 2018

    Who in the World is this person and why do they think their information is valuable? No one is interested in what you have to say. The government got it so thanks but no thanks.
    I am sure your intentions are not pure, it never is. So go from whence you came.
    We will ask you for your opinion when we require it.

    • unlooking
      August 17, 2018

      your sound so foolish and uneducated. I hope that is not as a result of being mislead and brainwashed by the current or past government of dominica.

    • Joseph John
      August 17, 2018

      You claim all this expertise and you have all this credentials, so put your money where your mouth is and do something. Remember Dominica had limes…..your people take is away, coffee, cocao, vanilla….mangoes and citrus was banned by your people. Remember how your people destroyed the sugar industry of the whole West Indies. So your words are suspect. What is your ulterior motive. OR are you just an agent of those who are conditioning us to fight against each other. Remember your peoples foreign policy that affected the W I federation because you all thought that it would affect your reginal security. Remember how you tried to destroy Cuba your Monroe doctrine, don’t you think that we do not know that your people controlled Cuba’s economy. Did your forget how you guys try to destroy Mexico because they nationalize their oil industry. Now your goal is to destroy Venezuela because you want their oil, and their investment and money in the USA although you are a net oil…

      • Gary
        August 18, 2018

        Is all this nonsense from you necessary, is this the kind of mindset we to need to develop our country.

      • Liz M
        August 19, 2018

        Gary, sorry you didn’t get it, I did. You see, some people have to be kept in Check. Quite sure the person named ‘%’ ketches the drift. 8)

      • Joseph John
        August 20, 2018

        Gary, yes maybe its nonesense , but tell me this , what did citrus acid did to Dominica which was the number one lime producer in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD. How come Dominicans were going to Florida and Sugarland in Texas to cut cane before sugar disappeared in the whole West Indies. Have you heard of Rogue Nations , Imperialist capitalism and colonialism . Maybe I have.

        Have you heard about wolves in sheep clothing with ulterior motives.

      • Joseph John
        August 20, 2018

        Liz M….I do not think Gary will ever get it but maybe this will help….Who were the people who killed most of the Caribs in Dominica and put the survivors in a reserve…..who wipe out millions of Indians in the USA and put the rest on reserves, who poisoned the aborigins of Australia took their land and put them on reservs. Who took millions of black people from Africa and made them property in the “new world” claiming that they were not human because they had no souls.

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