COVID-19 Slashes Port Authority’s Marine and Aviation Revenue

An empty runway at the Cyril E. King Airport will be a common sight in upcoming months as airlines reduce their number of flights. (Source photo by Bethaney Lee)
An empty runway at the Cyril E. King Airport is becoming a common sight as airlines reduce their number of flights. (Source photo by Bethaney Lee)

The additional 100 day “No Sail” order put out by the Centers for Disease Control, in combination with airlines pulling flights from their schedules, has impacted the Virgin Islands Port Authority, which relies on marine and aviation revenues.

“All of us should know by now the biggest challenge is the cruise lines not coming. CDC indicated another 100 days before they can come back … That’s a big chuck of revenue that we get and now we will just have to maneuver around that,” VIPA board member Celestino White said during Wednesday’s board meeting.

According to its financial report, as of Feb. 29, 2019, VIPA billed a total of $778,449 in marine terminal taxes and collected $701,908 for fiscal year 2020. But with the extended “No Sail” order VIPA stands to see these cruise ship passenger revenue dwindle come the next fiscal year report.

“The only little, bright spot right now in what’s going on is that on the cargo side, cargo is still coming in and moving, which means we will try to stay on top of our billing as it relates to cargo,” White said.

Not only will VIPA have to contend with the lack of cruise ships lining the docks, they will also have to combat airlines continuing to drop flights.

“We have one flight coming out of American Airlines, but they are going to update their schedule to pick up more flights in May. As of right now Spirit Airlines and Delta Airlines have pulled out due to the COVID-19 pandemic … Silver/ Seaborne are still operating flights out of Puerto Rico and inter island. Cape Air is also operating San Juan flights and inter island service,” VIPA board member Jerome Sheridan said.

Sheridan added that Spirit Airlines has pulled out from St. Croix and American is still running one flight to the big island.

“Essentially all they have now is inter island service and the Puerto Rican flight,” he said.

The VIPA Aviation Division has already experienced a $769,000 operating loss in the last fiscal year, according to its financial report. Board members are planning on discussing airline bailout funds with Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. in the near future.

“All of us are in uncharted waters. None of us have ever been in this place before, so every day adjustments have to be made; even with our employees, with our vendors, the way we do business and the way we operate. From time to time there will be challenges that we face but we will continue to try to navigate those challenges,” White said.

Some of these pandemic challenges White referred too are not only with handling revenues from marine and aviation, but also basic health concerns.

VIPA board member Anise Hodge said the agency has ordered more than 500 personal protective equipment kits for first responders and VIPA staff.

“The problem was in the beginning, with the limited supplies that were available, we had a delay on getting that particular shipment,” but they should be on island soon, Hodge said.

Also during the meeting the board voted on officers. Leona Smith was voted chairperson, Nelson Petty Jr. was named vice chair and Kevin Rodriguez was chosen as secretary.