By Mauri Elbel
As early as next year, Seaborne Airlines might be expanding its operations to St. John.
“It’s very likely that it could be as early as next year to bring air service to St. John,” said Omer ErSelcuk, president and CEO of Seaborne Airlines. “But it is dependent upon how well we can execute our existing plans.”
Currently, Seaborne Airlines operates flights between St. Thomas, St. Croix and San Juan and will be adding new flights on the existing routes as well as adding a new service from St. Thomas to Virgin Gorda in the next year.
“We look at all the opportunities that are available and at the moment, there is still plenty of demand between St. Thomas and St. Croix,” said ErSelcuk.
By this time next year, the CEO said his company will be adding three new aircraft to its fleet, creating additional flights on existing routes as well a new service from St. Thomas to Virgin Gorda.
“Basically, next year with six aircraft, we are looking at doubling the amount of flights we are providing now,” said ErSelcuk.
Although ErSelcuk said St. John is very much within the scope of the airline’s plan, he said the company must first address demands on existing routes before jumping into a new market.
The British Virgin Islands government built a sea plane facility on Virgin Gorda this past year, and ErSelcuk said the company is excited about operating from a new base.
“What the BVI government has done for sea plane service in Virgin Gorda is to build a sea plane facility,” said ErSelcuk. “The equivalent of that would be the USVI government building a sea plane facility on St. John.”
The funding is available to bring air service to St. John, but Seaborne Airlines plans to do so in an orderly, planned fashion.
“We have the ability to go into St. John tomorrow, but we are being realistic,” said ErSelcuk. “We have 125 employees, an operating plan and we carry 150,000 passengers every year. But just because we have the ability to do it doesn’t mean that you want to jump into a new market without the proper planning and commitments.”
Seaborne Airlines has already accumulated hundreds of hours performing research and test flights landing on and taking off from St. John, according to ErSelcuk.
“The opportunity is there and the ability is there, and now it is just a matter of putting it into an executable plan,” he said.
Before executing the plan, the company’s priorities are to add more flights to St. Thomas, St. Croix and San Juan and to implement service to Virgin Gorda.
“These are all things we hope to accomplish in early 2007, and once that is done, we are going to target our sights on St. John.”
After Seaborne Airlines accomplishes its additional flights and begins plane service to Virgin Gorda, St. John is next on the list.
“We will come to St. John — it is number two after Virgin Gorda,” said ErSelcuk. “Our intention is to come to St. John because there is demand on St. John.”
In order to dedicate the resources necessary to make Seaborne service available on St. John, the company will need to invest capital to build facilities, buy aircraft and staff operations properly, according to ErSelcuk, who said a fully-equipped twin otter on floats costs $2.5 million and the construction of a facility and start up will cost at least $250,000.
“We need to have another aircraft, facilities, FAA approvals, National Park Service approval and a lot of support to do it,” he said. “But it is feasible to safely conduct service with our twin otter out of St. John.”
Seaborne Airlines will not need a ramped facility to operate on St. John but will require a dock and a facility for its passengers to check in and wait, he said.
“The aircraft we have now are capable of safely operating into and out of St. John,” said ErSelcuk. “And as with any destination, there are going to be days where you will not be able to conduct operations. Safety is first and if that is the case we would find back up means to get folks back and forth.”