On Tuesday February 19th, Princess Juliana International Airport CEO Brian Mingo presented the airport’s progress, outlooks and challenges at a meeting with one of its key stakeholders, the Sint Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA).
During the meeting, Mingo outlined the key challenges the airport has faced and continues to face in its recovery process – in addition to liquidity and insurance challenges; that most business owners can sympathize with in this post-Irma environment; debt service ratios, cost cutting without impacting personnel; and the step by step approach towards full recovery and maximizing utilization during that process were discussed. It is expected that the airport will be back to full capacity and functionality by December 2020 if no further challenges arise.
Recovery of the airport has been one of the key priorities for the association. In its Vision presented in May 2018 to Prime Minister Romeo-Marlin and Dutch Government representative Hans Leijtens (SHTA.com/Vision-2025) the SHTA ranked recovery of the airport as one of the top 10 urgent priorities for the recovery of Sint Maarten. This association has been pushing through all available channels, including the monthly stakeholder meetings of the airport; the urgent need to solve the financing and other hinderances the airport faces post haste.
The association’s representatives showed support of the austere, but pragmatic recovery strategy proposed by Mingo; and recognized that accepting the proposal of the World Bank and European Investment Bank Soft loan seems like the most expeditious and responsible way forward, as it is improbable that a better financing solution will be made available in the immediate especially given current constraints with debt service and existing lender agreements. The association noted that it is also unrealistic to expect any entity to provide you with $100 Million in financing without insisting on conditions of usage or oversight. Given the reputation of Schiphol as a premier international airport, it was widely agreed that integrating their expertise alongside our local expertise would indeed prove advantageous to PJIA; not only in recovery efforts but also in many other areas, to improve synergies, and better leverage economies of scale by being able to more rapidly absorb best practices not already engaged. Given the vast experience of the Schiphol Group in managing several airports and even a terminal of John F Kennedy Airport in New York, the association sees this as an opportunity.
SHTA underlined the importance of continuing to improve the customer experience as the recovery efforts move forward and to continue to tackle first impressions for our arriving guests. It was important for the SHTA to learn that the process of reconstruction will allow more areas to come online over time and that there is not just one step from today’s operations to December 2020; and that the Jetways, and check-in areas have top priority for returning to use. It was stressed to view passenger arrival and departure areas to make sure that these areas were upgraded and maintained.
US Pre-clearance was also discussed, the importance of it for Sint Maarten and how there are limited resources to have it included in the initial phase, which, now 17 months after Irma, has not started yet. The Association stressed ensuring the ROI for US pre-clearance for the airport as well as the island as a whole; as it is an expensive addition to the service offering, which may or may not increase the Sint Maarten visitor satisfaction level sufficiently for the annually recurring cost. The Association believes that our airport should be our gateway and that it is not necessarily in the island’s best interest to move visitor’s on and off of it as quickly as possible but to facilitate long and enjoyable visits.
The SHTA appreciated the open dialogue and clarifications on PJIA policy and strategy and thanked CEO Mingo for taking the time to make his presentation to the Board.