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V.I. OFFICIALS TO LOBBY DELTA IN ATLANTA NEXT WEEK

V.I. government officials will travel to Atlanta next Monday to try to persuade Delta Airlines to continue service to St. Croix.
Last week, Delta, one of three major airlines that fly into St. Croix, announced that it was discontinuing its daily flight beginning Dec. 1. Airline officials said passenger revenues did not justify the approximately $50,000 a month in expenses the airline pays to the V.I. Port Authority.
Delta’s decision caught government and private sector officials by surprise. Senators and business leaders said that if efforts to keep Delta, either by reducing Port Authority fees or promising more tourism marketing, should fail, the blow to St. Croix’s economy could be disastrous.
But how severe a blow Delta’s departure would be appears open to debate.
While Gordon Finch, executive director of the Port Authority, said Delta has provided an "invaluable" service to St. Croix, he pointed out that, on average, only 31 passengers arrive on the island each day with the airline.
He said Delta’s planes can carry up to 180 passengers, but tht most of those people disembark on St. Thomas. St. Thomas service will continue and, Finch said, eliminating the St. Croix leg of the flight will make more seats available for St. Thomas.
"I understand that Delta is a business and like any other business it must make a profit to survive," Finch said. "Delta officials have indicated that it is not economically feasible to continue its St. Croix service."
Similarly, Tourism Commissioner-designate Michael Bornn said Wednesday, "When the plane is empty, putting the plane on the ground is a problem." What's needed, he said, is a "marketing structure" that will generate passenger demand to travel to St. Croix. He did not elaborate.
As for the Port Authority’s fees, Finch said Delta pays the same landing fees as two other air carriers that have guaranteed bonds to expand the St. Thomas airport. Those fees are about 75 percent of what non-guarantor airlines pay.
Finch said that over the last 12 months, Delta’s average monthly bills on St. Croix were $51,400, which "does not even add up to the cost of electricity for the St. Croix and St. Thomas terminals."
Peter Ross, president of the St. Croix Hotel Association, said the idea of reducing Port Authority fees to keep Delta might prove troublesome. Because Delta is a guarantor of the St. Thomas airport bonds, as are American Airlines and USAir, reducing fees for one would probably mean reducing fees for all.
"To waive fees for 30 people doesn’t make sense," Ross said. "Our ability to negotiate with Delta is somewhat limited without doing damage to those bonds."
Ross added that while Delta brings more than 18,000 passengers to St. Croix a year, some 7,000 of them are local residents traveling between the two islands.
Delta began serving St. Croix in 1992 and plans to continue serving St. Thomas, where in recent years it typically flew one flight a day out of Atlanta year-round and a second flight out of New York in high season.
Accompanying Finch to Delta’s headquarters in Atlanta on Monday will be Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II and Acting Tourism Commissioner Michael Bornn.

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V.I. government officials will travel to Atlanta next Monday to try to persuade Delta Airlines to continue service to St. Croix.
Last week, Delta, one of three major airlines that fly into St. Croix, announced that it was discontinuing its daily flight beginning Dec. 1. Airline officials said passenger revenues did not justify the approximately $50,000 a month in expenses the airline pays to the V.I. Port Authority.
Delta’s decision caught government and private sector officials by surprise. Senators and business leaders said that if efforts to keep Delta, either by reducing Port Authority fees or promising more tourism marketing, should fail, the blow to St. Croix’s economy could be disastrous.
But how severe a blow Delta’s departure would be appears open to debate.
While Gordon Finch, executive director of the Port Authority, said Delta has provided an "invaluable" service to St. Croix, he pointed out that, on average, only 31 passengers arrive on the island each day with the airline.
He said Delta’s planes can carry up to 180 passengers, but tht most of those people disembark on St. Thomas. St. Thomas service will continue and, Finch said, eliminating the St. Croix leg of the flight will make more seats available for St. Thomas.
"I understand that Delta is a business and like any other business it must make a profit to survive," Finch said. "Delta officials have indicated that it is not economically feasible to continue its St. Croix service."
Similarly, Tourism Commissioner-designate Michael Bornn said Wednesday, "When the plane is empty, putting the plane on the ground is a problem." What's needed, he said, is a "marketing structure" that will generate passenger demand to travel to St. Croix. He did not elaborate.
As for the Port Authority’s fees, Finch said Delta pays the same landing fees as two other air carriers that have guaranteed bonds to expand the St. Thomas airport. Those fees are about 75 percent of what non-guarantor airlines pay.
Finch said that over the last 12 months, Delta’s average monthly bills on St. Croix were $51,400, which "does not even add up to the cost of electricity for the St. Croix and St. Thomas terminals."
Peter Ross, president of the St. Croix Hotel Association, said the idea of reducing Port Authority fees to keep Delta might prove troublesome. Because Delta is a guarantor of the St. Thomas airport bonds, as are American Airlines and USAir, reducing fees for one would probably mean reducing fees for all.
"To waive fees for 30 people doesn’t make sense," Ross said. "Our ability to negotiate with Delta is somewhat limited without doing damage to those bonds."
Ross added that while Delta brings more than 18,000 passengers to St. Croix a year, some 7,000 of them are local residents traveling between the two islands.
Delta began serving St. Croix in 1992 and plans to continue serving St. Thomas, where in recent years it typically flew one flight a day out of Atlanta year-round and a second flight out of New York in high season.
Accompanying Finch to Delta’s headquarters in Atlanta on Monday will be Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II and Acting Tourism Commissioner Michael Bornn.