By Mauri Elbel
David Brown has worked diligently to bring air service to St. John, but it seems his attempts to put the planes into operation aren’t flying.
Brown has been working to bring air service to St. John since 2004, but he has been unable to do so because he has not been able to overcome the obstacle of securing an operational sea base from the V.I. Port Authority, he said.
Brown, founder of St. John Air Taxi, has been waiting for the Port Authority to grant permission to use the VIPA-owned land known as Pillsbury Sound located between St. John and St. Thomas as a base for sea plane service.
“VIPA required that we prove ourselves as capable of being able to operate an air taxi operation, and in doing so we got all the required permits and licenses,” said Brown. “But since then, we have not received any correspondence or any approvals from VIPA.”
St. John Air Taxi met the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval for taking off and landing in Cruz Bay in the summer of 2005, according to Brown.
The company also secured U.S. Coast Guard approval for navigating sea planes in Pillsbury Sound, the channel between St. John and St. Thomas, in the summer of 2005, he said.
St. John Air Taxi’s application has been filed with the VIPA for almost two years, but he has yet to receive a written response detailing the application’s current status, according to Brown.
“We are stuck,” said Brown. “It is very difficult to do business in the Virgin Islands, especially when permits aren’t delivered or agencies do not follow their own due process.”
VIPA Executive Director Darlin Brin verbally indicated the VIPA-owned land being requested by St. John Air Taxi was also being requested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, according to Brown, who added Brin told him St. John Air Taxi and U.S. Fish and Wildlife would need to reach an agreement before his permit was approved by the Port Authority.
“We understand verbally on the street that our application has been approved, pending some conditions; however, we have not been advised of those conditions in writing, only verbally,” said Brown. “ I asked for this decision in writing in August of 2006, and we are still waiting for this writing to come through.”
Brin, the only person with the authority to speak on behalf of St. John Air Taxi’s application status, was out of the territory and would not be able to comment until next week, according to Marc Stridiron, VIPA spokesperson.
Not Able To Move Forward
“We are not able to move forward with this process with Fish and Wildlife until VIPA follows through due process and gives us a letter of intent,” said Brown.
Despite the standstill, Brown still feels confident that St. John needs air service.
“In 2003, St. John was visited by more than 800,000 visitors, but the only transport to the islands is either the St. Thomas/St. John ferry or a private charter,” said Brown. “The need for air service was obvious when Antilles air boats flew up until 1989, but since then, that void has not been filled.”
The U.S. Virgin Islands does not currently have air service available to link all three islands.
“St. Thomas and St. Croix both have air taxi services but none are capable of servicing St. John,” said Brown. “And that is what we are trying to fulfill.”
The type of air craft Seaborne Airlines, which already operates flights between St. Thomas, St. Croix and San Juan, uses is not capable of landing and taking off in the complex winds and seas surrounding St. John, according to Brown.
“Seaborne is unable with the type of aircraft they use to have regular service in and out of St. John,” said Brown. “They would only be able to operate approximately 60 percent of the time due to the wind and seas, and Seaborne has not been able to secure a sea plane base over here and I think their intentions of doing so are not there.”
Omer ErSelcuk, president and CEO of Seaborne Airlines, said the company’s aircraft are capable of landing and taking off from the island and the company intends to bring the services to St. John in the near future (see related story).
St. John Air Taxi’s planes will be “flying boats” capable of dealing with tough wind and sea conditions, according to Brown.
“Our planes are also amphibious by nature, being able to take off from the water and land at international airports on St. Thomas, St. Croix or St. John,” said Brown.
St. John Air Taxi’s future goal is to have three airplanes, starting with one flying charter air taxi service to any destination chartered from St. John to San Juan and St. Maarten and all of the islands in between as well as two other planes offering scheduled service between all three U.S. Virgin Islands, according to Brown.
“But we are still waiting.” said Brown. “All we can do is to continue putting pressure on VIPA for a letter of intent to do business with St. John Air Taxi.”