Today, Mellissa Arrindell-Doncher, Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs, announced that Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) will reopen beginning on October 10, 2017.
“We will be back in business,” the Minister stated. The date is symbolic because it also marks seven years since Sint Maarten obtained its new constitutional status.
The expectation is that incoming passengers arriving from international locations will be processed in temporary location, possibly tents that have been set up at the airport. Although, that was not part of today’s official announcement.
It was announced earlier that the airport will need eight months to get back to normal operations (read more here). There is a tremendous amount of work to be done to get all the repairs completed but the government has already begun that process.
“Even as we open our airport, we are still months away from restoring PJIA to its former glory,” Arrindell-Doncher said.
The impact of airline traffic to Sint Maarten
To better understand passenger traffic, it’s important to note that there are three types of passengers that travel through SXM.
- Outbound (Enplaned) – Departing passengers traveling to international or domestic destinations that include passengers making connections (transfers) at SXM for either international or domestic travel.
- Inbound (Deplaned) – Arriving passengers traveling from international or domestic origins that also include passengers making connections (transfers) at SXM for either international or domestic travel.
- Transit – Those passengers staying onboard an aircraft as it passes through SXM and not paying fees at SXM.
There have been a number of airlines that have already announced target dates for the resumption of service to SXM (read about that here). Of the airlines we know about, American is the only international carrier that appears set to resume service immediately. We’re in the process of contacting other carriers and will provide an update as soon as we get more information.
We can expect that regional service to other islands in the Caribbean will begin immediately. That’s great news because in 2015 (the most recent numbers available), Caribbean passengers made up nearly 29% of all enplaned departures (approximately 250,000 total), second only to departures to the United States. Departures are significant because the airport only collects passenger fees on departing (outbound) passengers, not arriving (inbound) or transit.
Passengers departing for the U.S. account for 49% of total departures, or 420,000 total passengers. Fees paid by departing (outbound) passengers makes up nearly 64% of total airport revenues.
Adding another element to the equation are total tourist arrivals, which represents passengers (tourists) that arrive and stay at least one night, which were approximately 500,000 in 2015. These numbers are significant to the economy of the entire island because they represent people who stay in hotels and spend money at local businesses. Arriving tourists spend $75.90 per day, on average, and they’re what will help get the local economy up and running the quickest.
North America — U.S. and Canada — make up approximately 61%, 310,104, of all overnight tourist arrivals to SXM. While the Caribbean accounts for only 5%, or 27,402, of total overnight tourist arrivals.
Of course, regardless of how many flights are operating there has to be enough hotel rooms to accommodate overnight tourists. That’s an entirely different issue, one which we don’t have a complete picture of just yet.
Reopening the airport to commercial service is a critical step in rebuilding Sint Maarten. With news that the Philipsburg port will be ready to accept cruise ships starting on November 11, these are two of the biggest hurdles needed on the path to recovery for Sint Maarten in the post-Irma world.
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