By Steve Thomas Observer Nevis Editor
(Basseterre, St. Kitts) ” High fuel prices and a reduction in passengers from the United Kingdom have resulted in an air carrier’s decision to eliminate flights to and from the Caribbean before the end of the year. XL Airways has announced that they will cease operations on all of their six Caribbean routes for this coming winter due to adverse market conditions. XL currently provides airlift services to St Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada and Tobago from London. Weekly service from London’s Gatwick Airport will fly for the last time on Monday, Nov. 3, 2008, according to a press release from the St. Kitts-Nevis Tourism Authority. An executive with XL Airways explained the cuts. “The Caribbean routes” lack of profitability has been a challenge for XL Airways over recent months. The main factors causing this are the extremely high fuel prices which result in long haul routes bearing very high costs compared to six months ago” XL.com Managing Director Martin Lock said “There has also been a serious downturn in the UK economy leading to lower demand for flights and holidays and again, because of their higher prices, the long haul routes from the UK are seeing even more of a softening of demand than short haul. “This weaker demand has lead to XL Airways having to keep our prices competitive as we try and attract more customers. The result of low yields with high fuel prices has led to the Caribbean routes to lose unacceptable amounts of money for XL Airways and, without all the islands being able to assist us, reluctantly we have had to take the decision to cancel the services.”” The Hon. Richard Skerritt, Minister of State with Responsibility for Tourism, Culture, and Sport, commented on the development. “While we had been aware of the likelihood of an XL service reduction to the Caribbean this winter, we had been assured up to a few weeks ago that the service to St. Kitts and Antigua would not be affected,” the senator said. The XL service termination could represent a total loss of about 7,000 passengers to St. Kitts annually, including over 4,000 British tourists and hundreds of UK based Kittitians and Nevisians for whom the service will be missed, he said. All possible measures are being explored to minimize this loss and expressed confidence that the XL service from the UK will be replaced to St. Kitts in the not too distant future, Sen. Skerritt said. “”With XL’s help, we have been able to raise the profile of the St. Kitts brand in the UK over the past few years and I am confident that market demand for our tourism destination will be the basis for driving future direct airlift arrangements to St Kitts from London. “Fortunately, we have just recently won the support of LIAT for a daily afternoon flight timed specifically to make connecting with major scheduled UK carriers at the Antigua V.C. Bird Airport more seamless. “We have to ensure that this connecting service by LIAT will be sustained and well promoted in the UK.” the Minister said.