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PRIVATE AIRCRAFT TRAFFIC UP FOR CEK AIRPORT

Jan. 6, 2001 – While commercial traffic at Cyril E. King Airport is down from a year ago, those sleek little and not-so-little private jets flying in daily are bringing a boost to the local economy.
As many as 27 private aircraft may be on the ground at any given time, according to Dan Tomlinson, manager of V.I. Ground Handlers and Alliance Aviation. "They come from all over the world, but mostly from the U.S.," he said. And they keep everyone from ground handlers to villa mangers profitably occupied.
Tomlinson said November traffic was down about 20 flights a day compared to a year earlier — a drop he attributed to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But "right now, we have a slight increase over last year," he said. Again, he attributed this, in part, to terrorism concerns: More people, mostly corporate executives, are choosing the private jets not only for privacy but for safety, he said.
St. Thomas does get its share of celebrities — some say more than ever this year — and they, of course, do guard their privacy. "Some of our passengers are famous," Tomlinson said. "Most are not. They enjoy their freedom of movement around St. Thomas and the V.I."
From the moment they hit the ground, the private planes plump up the economy, starting with fueling, landing fees and parking, then on to chartered or private yachts, villas and upscale hotels, to say nothing of wining, dining and shopping.
And when they leave, their planes take on not only fuel but food and drink. Just ask Becky or Ted Luscz, owners of Hook, Line and Sinker restaurant in Frenchtown, who are going into their second season catering the jets. "Our business has gone up at least 100 percent over last season," Ted Luscz said, "probably more if I had time to calculate it."
It's not an easy business. People who can afford to fly around in private jets can be very particular, and some seem unaware that St. Thomas doesn't have elegant gourmet shops like Balducci's or a Dean and DeLuca right around the corner. But the Lusczes are resourceful.
"We've done six dinners with beluga caviar and lobster tails on not much more than a moment's notice," Becky Luscz said. They also prepare peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – white bread, no crusts, cut in half — with a Rice Krispies side dish at the drop of a hat.
Roy Romney, St. Thomas manager of Bohlke Aviation, said his business, too, is "a lot more this year — maybe a 10 to 15 percent increase over last year." Between them, Bohlke and Ground Handlers handle all of the private aviation operations at CEK airport.
And there's more than the small Lear jets. "We have Boeing 727's and 737's coming in, too," Romney said. "We do anything we can for them, any service they need."
Not all of the private arrivals have the territory as their final destination. "I'd say about 50 percent go to the British Virgin Islands," Romney said. "Time-share villas get a lot of business, but most of the people go sailing."
Romney's philosophy of all-out service is shared by Tomlinson. "We try to see how and where we can help them," he said.
Tomlinson was enthusiastic in his praise of the Port Authority's CEK Airport manager, Barbara Ricketts, and its operations supervisor, Jose Nazario. "They have done a great job in helping us accommodate all the aircraft," he said. "They played an important role in temporarily closing off a taxiway for added parking space for us. They are working hard to plan safe, well-organized parking." CEK even accommodates overflow aircraft from St. Martin, he said.
Expanding the general aviation parking ramp was part of the master plan when they built the airport, Tomlinson said, and "it feels like they are starting to move in that direction."
He also is enthusiastic about allowing mega-yachts to tie up at the Charlotte Amalie waterfront. "That's a great idea by the Port Authority," he said. "There's a correlation between the yachts and the jets. About 30 percent of the [air] passengers go on the boats, and the rest to top-end resorts like the Ritz-Carlton and Caneel Bay — or to private islands like little St. James here or Necker Island in the B.V.I."
Tomlinson was reluctant to put a dollar amount, or even a ballpark figure, on just what the private jets mean to the local economy.
Ben Grimes, Federal Aviation Administration operations supervisor at the St. Thomas airport control tower, said overall air traffic to the island this season is down about 18 percent from last year. But cutbacks in flights by commercial carriers since Sept. 11 haven't adversely affected those who are insulated from the economic and psychological realities of private flying and can at will declare, "I'm leaving on a jet plane" — to the Virgin Islands.

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Jan. 6, 2001 - While commercial traffic at Cyril E. King Airport is down from a year ago, those sleek little and not-so-little private jets flying in daily are bringing a boost to the local economy.
As many as 27 private aircraft may be on the ground at any given time, according to Dan Tomlinson, manager of V.I. Ground Handlers and Alliance Aviation. "They come from all over the world, but mostly from the U.S.," he said. And they keep everyone from ground handlers to villa mangers profitably occupied.
Tomlinson said November traffic was down about 20 flights a day compared to a year earlier -- a drop he attributed to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But "right now, we have a slight increase over last year," he said. Again, he attributed this, in part, to terrorism concerns: More people, mostly corporate executives, are choosing the private jets not only for privacy but for safety, he said.
St. Thomas does get its share of celebrities -- some say more than ever this year -- and they, of course, do guard their privacy. "Some of our passengers are famous," Tomlinson said. "Most are not. They enjoy their freedom of movement around St. Thomas and the V.I."
From the moment they hit the ground, the private planes plump up the economy, starting with fueling, landing fees and parking, then on to chartered or private yachts, villas and upscale hotels, to say nothing of wining, dining and shopping.
And when they leave, their planes take on not only fuel but food and drink. Just ask Becky or Ted Luscz, owners of Hook, Line and Sinker restaurant in Frenchtown, who are going into their second season catering the jets. "Our business has gone up at least 100 percent over last season," Ted Luscz said, "probably more if I had time to calculate it."
It's not an easy business. People who can afford to fly around in private jets can be very particular, and some seem unaware that St. Thomas doesn't have elegant gourmet shops like Balducci's or a Dean and DeLuca right around the corner. But the Lusczes are resourceful.
"We've done six dinners with beluga caviar and lobster tails on not much more than a moment's notice," Becky Luscz said. They also prepare peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – white bread, no crusts, cut in half -- with a Rice Krispies side dish at the drop of a hat.
Roy Romney, St. Thomas manager of Bohlke Aviation, said his business, too, is "a lot more this year -- maybe a 10 to 15 percent increase over last year." Between them, Bohlke and Ground Handlers handle all of the private aviation operations at CEK airport.
And there's more than the small Lear jets. "We have Boeing 727's and 737's coming in, too," Romney said. "We do anything we can for them, any service they need."
Not all of the private arrivals have the territory as their final destination. "I'd say about 50 percent go to the British Virgin Islands," Romney said. "Time-share villas get a lot of business, but most of the people go sailing."
Romney's philosophy of all-out service is shared by Tomlinson. "We try to see how and where we can help them," he said.
Tomlinson was enthusiastic in his praise of the Port Authority's CEK Airport manager, Barbara Ricketts, and its operations supervisor, Jose Nazario. "They have done a great job in helping us accommodate all the aircraft," he said. "They played an important role in temporarily closing off a taxiway for added parking space for us. They are working hard to plan safe, well-organized parking." CEK even accommodates overflow aircraft from St. Martin, he said.
Expanding the general aviation parking ramp was part of the master plan when they built the airport, Tomlinson said, and "it feels like they are starting to move in that direction."
He also is enthusiastic about allowing mega-yachts to tie up at the Charlotte Amalie waterfront. "That's a great idea by the Port Authority," he said. "There's a correlation between the yachts and the jets. About 30 percent of the [air] passengers go on the boats, and the rest to top-end resorts like the Ritz-Carlton and Caneel Bay -- or to private islands like little St. James here or Necker Island in the B.V.I."
Tomlinson was reluctant to put a dollar amount, or even a ballpark figure, on just what the private jets mean to the local economy.
Ben Grimes, Federal Aviation Administration operations supervisor at the St. Thomas airport control tower, said overall air traffic to the island this season is down about 18 percent from last year. But cutbacks in flights by commercial carriers since Sept. 11 haven't adversely affected those who are insulated from the economic and psychological realities of private flying and can at will declare, "I'm leaving on a jet plane" -- to the Virgin Islands.