Air Canada will not resume St. Thomas-Toronto service
Published: July 14, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - Air Canada will not be returning to the territory for the upcoming tourist season, adding to the number of flights to the U.S. Virgin Islands lost in recent months.
American Eagle will drop two Miami-to-St. Croix flights in August and reduce service between San Juan and St. Croix from 19 to seven weekly round-trip flights.
Delta Air Lines will discontinue its weekly Atlanta-to-St. Croix service at the end of July.
"Unfortunately the airline industry is really struggling now," V.I. Tourism Department spokeswoman Allegra Kean-Moorehead said Friday. "American Airlines is in Chapter 11, and all other airlines are dealing with high fuel costs and low profit margins."
Add to that the general economic slump, and everyone feels the pinch, she said.
"It's a tough time for the travel industry as a whole," she said.
Last season - from December to April - Air Canada had one weekly direct flight from Toronto to St. Thomas. The route was serviced by Air Canada's Airbus 319-100 aircraft, which has 14 executive seats and 106 economy seats.
The route was popular, with full planes coming into the territory each week.
That was the problem, according to Kean-Moorehead.
"I know that they were very full, the planes were full, but there were other considerations relative to their operating cost," she said.
The aircraft used by Air Canada required a technical stop in San Juan if the plane was more than 65 percent full, according to Kean-Moorehead.
"Because it was successful, averaging about 83 percent, these stops were pretty regular," she said.
When the flight had to stop in San Juan, it required a second crew and additional fuel for landing and taking off, she said.
"It just increased their costs significantly," Kean-Moorehead said. "It just became cost prohibitive."
Tourism tried to negotiate with the Canadian airline, to see if it could help cover some costs, but in the end it was not cost-effective for the V.I. government either, she said.
"To commit any more to that would have reduced the economic impact for us," Kean-Moorehead said.
According to the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research, 6,901 Canadian visitors came to the territory in 2011, about 300 more than 2010.
Kean-Moorehead said visitors from Canada still have options to get to the Virgin Islands on connecting flights from American and Delta, but there no longer will be a direct flight available.
In a more positive light, JetBlue will be starting up its seasonal direct flight from St. Thomas to Boston in September - three months earlier than originally scheduled.
Bravo Tours, a charter flight and tour from Denmark to St. Croix, will be returning for the upcoming season.
"They are scheduled to return in October," Kean-Moorehead said. "The charter did really well, the numbers were good and the experience that the participants reported was really positive."
To help mitigate the drop in airlift to the territory, Tourism is continuing its marketing efforts and partnerships with airlines, Kean-Moorehead said.
In June, Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty and V.I. Port Authority Interim Executive Director Don Mills met with airline executives at the JumpStart airline conference in Sacramento, Calif.
The department also is collaborating with regional commuter carriers Seaborne Airlines and Cape Air to help fill anticipated seat reductions, particularly to St. Croix, according to Tourism.
Seaborne is planning to acquire Saab 340B 34-seat aircraft, adding about 5,000 weekly seats to the territory by early next year, Nicholson-Doty said.
To market the territory, Tourism has relaunched the "Sizzlin' Sampler" offer to attract summer bookings to the territory. The promotion will be accompanied by advertising on U.S. cable television specifically targeting St. Croix. The department is spending about $1 million to promote the campaign - $350,000 of which will fund the St. Croix-specific advertising.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.