Damage control by the public and private sectors is under way in the wake of Delta Air Lines announcement Thursday that it would discontinue service to St. Croix as of Dec. 1.
Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II said Friday that he had asked Gordon Finch, executive director of the Port Authority, to arrange a meeting between government and airline officials at Deltas Atlanta headquarters. No date was given.
In an interview a few hours before James statements, Delta spokesman Tracy ODonnal said he wasnt sure if the government had called the airline. ODonnal said the airline was willing to sit down with V.I. officials to talk about service to St. Croix.
Delta does not suspend service to a community, O'Donnal said, without considering the fallout. But "the bottom line is a matter of cost versus revenue."
Delta officials have estimated that the airline pays $88,000 a month in landing and leasing fees to the Port Authority to operate at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, although O'Donnal would not confirm that. Port Authority officials could not be reached yesterday for comment about the fees, reportedly the highest in the Caribbean.
Hoping not only to keep Delta but to lure other carriers, local business leaders are calling on the Port Authority to see whether its fees can be lowered. Government leaders are also considering that option.
"We obviously want Delta to keep flying to St. Croix," said James, who is acting as governor while Gov. Charles Turnbull is out of the territory. "But we cant just beg them back without offering them incentives in order to make it economically feasible."
ODonnal said that if the numbers made it worthwhile for Delta to continue servicing St. Croix, the airline could reconsider its decision.
"Its certainly something wed take into consideration," he said. "Delta is always willing to look at proposals."
Delta began serving St. Croix in 1992. From last October through June of this year it carried 18,978 passengers to the island.
Deltas passenger reservation service on Friday quoted $426 for a 14-day advance purchase round-trip ticket between St. Croix and Atlanta through Dec. 1. The base fare does not include federal taxes and fees assessed at the airports at either end of the flight.
ODonnal said Delta would continue to serve St. Thomas with a daily direct flight from Atlanta.
"The St. Thomas market is a very successful market for Delta," he said, adding that the airline must focus its resources on routes that demand service.
With that in mind, acting Tourism Commissioner Monique Sibilly-Hodge noted that Deltas last day of service to St. Croix coincided with the targeted opening of the island's first major tourist draw since the Carambola resort opened a decade ago.
"It is ironic that this will occur on the same day that the first casino on St. Croix is scheduled to open, which we all hope will presage the revival of St. Croixs economy," she said.