From left: Tourism Minister Stuart Johnson shakes hands with Copa Chief Executive Officer Pedro Heilbron.
POND ISLAND–Copa Airlines will resume four flights weekly in December and January.
Copa Chief Executive Officer Pedro Heilbron announced the increased flights in a meeting with Tourism Minister Stuart Johnson last week.
Copa flights are running now with 76 per cent load factors. The figure shows that St. Maarten has an opportunity to improve and with the Copa memorandum of understanding (MOU) and the campaign between Anguilla and St. Maarten, Johnson’s plan is expected to increase destination awareness and visitor arrivals significantly over the next six months.
Heilbron was pleased that Johnson met with the airline and updated him on the island’s recovery as well as that of the hub’s surrounding islands. Johnson further pledged his commitment to Copa Airlines. Heilbron also provided an update on the airline’s plans, given the industry challenges with aircraft, and has committed to the Copa/St. Maarten partnership.
The delegation from St. Maarten attending the high-level meeting with Copa top executives at their headquarters in Panama was led by Minister Johnson. It consisted of Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Cabinet Chief Regina Labega, Civil Aviation head Louis Halley and Director of Tourism May-Ling Chun.
“St. Maarten continues to make significant headway towards full restoration of our visitor arrival numbers, and this comes through continued dialogue with our international partners. Their trust in our destination is evidence that our product is amongst the best in the world,” said Johnson on Sunday.
“The Ministry of TEATT will continue to actively engage our international and local partners while at the same time ensuring that we do the work needed to restore our main gateway and bring our island back to its former glory.”
Minister Johnson provided some updates on St. Maarten’s reconstruction post-Hurricane Irma in 2017, during last week’s meeting which included the Copa Airlines commercial team. He told the airline top staffers that the Government of St. Maarten was especially grateful for the efforts Copa had made in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma with relief flights for visitors.
Johnson told the airline representatives, “The island has made significant progress based on the resilience and determination of its people. We are still busy with the restoration of the SXM Airport, and along with our hub partners and hotels, we have had significant increases in airlift and visitor arrivals.
“This increase in numbers is to a large extent based on the fact that Princess Juliana International Airport now operates from inside the terminal building with a capacity of 1,200 passengers during peak hours.”
Johnson spoke at length during the meeting with the airline about the airport’s recovery and improvement efforts. He explained that the roof of the terminal building has been completely restored to category-five wind-speed resistance.
He said, “There are presently 36 counters on the ground floor using the Common Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE) system. The seating capacity for the section of the airport being used is presently at 620, and there are 14 concessionaries.”
Johnson told the Copa representatives it was essential to note that restoration of the terminal will be the main focus of Package 2 in the third quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2021, which will include four boarding bridges and upgrades to the baggage handling systems. In Package 3, Johnson explained that the airport would concentrate on United States preclearance in 2021 and the expansion of the apron parking.
The eight days that Copa will fly to St. Maarten in August are the 4th, 7th, 11th, 14th, 18th, 21st, 25th, and 28th. The airline will increase to nine flights in September and October and reduce to eight flights in November before increasing to 18 flights in December. The flights depart from Panama at 7:22am Pacific time and arrive in St. Maarten at 11:30am Atlantic Standard time, depart St. Maarten at 2:26pm and return to Panama at 2:44pm Pacific time.
According to Director of Tourism May-Ling Chun, “This was a crucial visit for Minister Johnson to meet with Copa Airlines, as they are our only Latin America carrier that is a crucial part for the further development of the tourism industry of St. Maarten in the Latin American market.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/89136-copa-to-increase-flight-frequency-to-4-weekly