By Alexander Britell
St Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport, one of the Caribbean’s most important air hubs, has reopened for commercial operations.
It’s a quick turnaround for an airport whose destruction was one of the most powerful symbols of the wrath of Hurricane Irma in the northeastern Caribbean.
“Despite the severe damage the airport sustained with the passage of the monster storms Irma and Maria, we have been able to get back to the point where we can have commercial service again,” said Michel Hyman, COO and Acting CEO of the airport in a statement.
Delta, American Airlines, Pawa Dominicana, Seaborne, InselAir and Winair are all relaunching operations, according to Rolando Brison, St Maarten’s director of tourism, who was speaking via Skype during a media briefing at the CTO State of the Industry conference in Grenada.
“However, some of them will do so with reduced schedule and frequency,” he cautioned.
“Arriving and departing passengers will be processed at makeshift halls and itemization of existing facilities,” Hyman said.
Delta was among the first carriers set to relaunch commercial operations on Tuesday.
Winair is relaunching its flights with limited service to islands including Saba, Statia, St Barth, Antigua and St Kitts, along with Curacao.
Another carrier, KLM, is relaunching its St Maarten flights on Oct. 29.
“The people at the SXM airport have worked very hard to get it done and i’m very proud we’re able to open,” Brison said.
St Maarten’s recovery has begun in earnest; while the island sustained varying levels of damage to 70 percent of its hotel stock, Brison said the Dutch side of the island still had about 30 percent of its inventory intact.
“Our estimates are that we expect to be at about 50 percent of our room inventory [and facilities] by December,” Brison said.
Other tourism infrastructure had also begun to rebound, Brison said, with beaches like Mullet Bay already with beach chairs and vendors.
He said the destination would be looking at occupancy and managing flights according to the island’s readiness.