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SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - I sincerely thank President of Parliament the Honorable Mrs. Sarah Wescot-Williams for her kind words as they relate to me and the successful turn-around of WINAIR.

However the credit must be shared with the following persons: Jeroen Veen, a legal brain and aviation buff; Roberto Gibbs, a sharp aviation financial wizard, Michael Cleaver, a knowledgeable and experienced airline executive; Hans de Jong, the Dutch Government Shareholder Representative and Aviation Expert; Georges Greaux Jr., Gerrit Draai and Robert Budike, the 3 persons appointed to the Board of Supervisory Directors, Captain Edwin Hodge, who in spite of having his hands tied because of pre 10/10/10 circumstances, managed to keep the struggling airline airborne.

Without these gentlemen and the entire dedicated WINAIR staff, WINDWARD ISLANDS AIRWAYS INTERNATIONAL, the brainchild of Captain Georges Greaux Sr., would by now be just one more failed Caribbean airline. Instead it is a thriving business that continues to spread its wings…

Michael J. Ferrier

Former Chairman of the WINAIR Supervisory Board.

COMMENTARY: The content is the sole responsibility of the author.


AIRPORT RUNWAY II (Response to Daniel Thompson)

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - Regarding the deadly accident at the airport fence on the Beacon Hill Road, the following: The problem is NOT the concrete LANE-DIVIDING barrier… it is the THRILL-SEEKING jet-blast “surfers” that chose to not heed all the very legible and “in-your-face” warning signs installed by the SXM Airport and SXM Government.

Remove the lane-divider and watch the re-emergence of traffic jams getting in and out of Beacon Hill. The lane divider was installed 17 years ago and is doing exactly what it was MEANT TO DO: Allowing traffic, including Ambulances, Fire Trucks, First Responders and the like access into and exit out of Beacon Hill by preventing selfish drivers from parking on what is now the inbound lane of the Beacon Hill Road at MAHO Beach.

Robert, a Lear Jet colleague pilot of mine, suggested we ask the SXM Civil Aviation Authorities and the SXM Airport to consider looking into a TOWER OPERATED, AIRCRAFT CARRIER TYPE JBD (Jet Blast Deflector).  Go online and research:   

Jet blast deflector - Wikipedia

“A jet blast deflector (JBD) or blast fence is a safety device that redirects the high energy exhaust from a jet engine to prevent damage and injury. ... Without a deflector, jet blast can be dangerous to people, equipment and other aircraft.”

Make no mistake, while I am sold on the solution of using a deflector rather than the expensive re-routing of the road in and out of Beacon Hill, due to the close proximity of the runway threshold it HAS to be a type of deflector that is able to retract flush with the ground whenever there is landing air traffic.

Any type of rigid, immovable structure so close to the touch down zone of our airport runway, is unacceptable.

Michael J. Ferrier

COMMENTARY: The aforementioned comments are the sole responsibility of the author.


Maastricht cave fire runs into sixth day, firemen haul out burning hay

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Firemen are still trying to stop a blaze which is causing smoke damage to parts of the historic Cannerberg ‘cave’ complex which runs from Maastricht into Belgium, six days after it began.

Several local fire brigades are involved in fighting the fire which began in a hay storage area last Thursday night, the Limburger said on Wednesday. Two Belgian nationals have been arrested in connection with the fire, which, according to Trouw, officials now think was started deliberately.

The caves were developed over the centuries as a limestone quarry. More than 80 kilometres of tunnels still run underneath the hillside and are dotted with inscriptions dating back hundreds of years, as well as carvings and traces of World War II activity.

Officials have now established that tunnels through the vast cave complex are safe enough to accommodate members of the fire brigades and special equipment. Wednesday mid-morning they entered the caves and began hauling away burning wood and hay stored there.

In total, the storage area, which was licenced, contains 800 m3 of hay, the paper said. Until then the emergency services had been allowing the fire to burn itself out, a controlled process which is now deemed to be too lengthy.

Smoke damage 

The fire has caused major damage in the few days it has been burning and smoke has affected nearby Maastricht. Château Neercanne, a Michelin-starred restaurant above the caves where the fire started, has been forced to close after its kitchens, dining rooms and wine cellars were damaged by the fire.

National storage location no. 9, better known as ‘the vault,’ which was used to store some 780 artworks including Rembrandt’s Night Watch until the end of the World War II is not yet thought to have been affected by smoke.

The caves, which are a major tourist draw in the region, later served as a communications centre and alternate headquarters of Nato during the Cold War. (DutchNews)


More wild boar involved in Veluwe car crashes despite cull

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Even though thousands of wild boar are shot in the Veluwe heathland area of the Netherlands every year, there has been a rise in the number of collisions between car and beast, local hunting lobby group VWV said on Wednesday.

In July so far there have been 48 crashes involving boar, in June there were 71 and in May 82, local paper the Stentor reported. That is more than half the total recorded in 2016 as a whole, the paper said.

Spokesman Gerrit-Jan Spek told the paper the number of crashes involving boar is due to the fact there are so many boar in the area, coupled with a shortage of beech nuts and acorns, their favourite food.

‘There are an estimated 6,250 boar in the Veluwe region and that is far too many,’ Spek said. Every year since 2007 when the cull was approved in parliament, hunters shoot around 80% of the local boar population in an effort to keep numbers under control.

Nevertheless, the population has remained constant at around 6,000. There is also a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards boar who leave the two national parks in the region and move to new parts of the country.


Anti-hunt lobby group Faunabescherming says efforts to restrict the boar to two areas are ‘ridiculous’. ‘Boar don’t pay any attention to boundaries,’ a spokesman told the paper.

The organisation also points out that people are feeding the boar to attract them for tourists. Epe town council, for example, offers visitors a 100% guarantee of seeing a boar for a fee.

Faunabescherming regards the mass cull as ineffective, arguing that the more food is available for the boar, the more strongly they reproduce. In addition, hunting the boar and disturbing their foraging areas is only driving them to move to other places, the organisation says. (DutchNews)


Factory farm ducks need water to swim in, campaigners say

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Animal rights organisation Dier en Recht has launched a campaign to give the eight million ducks raised on Dutch poultry farms every year access to water to swim or groom in.

Although ducks are water birds and using water is an essential part of their behaviour, ducks raised for consumption are kept indoors in large sheds with no water and no access to the outside, the organisation says.

Behavioural studies show that water is a key part of ensuring ducks are happy and healthy. Ducks in the Netherlands are kept indoors to reduce the risk of spreading diseases.

Duck breeder Jaap Maarsingh told broadcaster NOS that while he understands the emotion attached to the issue, ducks are being raised for human consumption, not to swim in a park.

‘A water system would have consequences for hygiene and animal health,’ he said. ‘We [duck farmers] are known for using little or no medicine. You can imagine that creating large wet areas will lead to health problems.’

The foundation has launched a petition calling on caretaker economic affairs minister Martin van Dam to take action. It points out that systems are being developed in Germany and Britain to give ducks raised as food access to water. (DutchNews)


Eggs recalled after banned pesticide found on poultry farms

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch food and product safety board NVWA has shut down seven poultry farms in the Netherlands after a banned pesticide was found in eggs.

Fipronil is used as an insecticide, particularly to kill fleas, and is classed as a ‘moderately hazardous pesticide’ by the World Health Organisation. The NVWA found traces of fipronil in eggs from four poultry farms and has launched a product recall.

Three other farms have been closed down as a precaution. The NVWA, which took the action after a tip-off from the Belgian authorities, said in a statement there is no danger to human health.

According to regional paper de Stentor, the contamination may have come from a pest control company in Gelderland which used the pesticide to deal with chicken lice. (DutchNews)


Passenger tax - a tax on all their dreams

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - What the Caribbean region needs is so simple: rapid, reliable mobility at reasonable rates. What makes it so difficult? It is almost as short and simple to explain. There are two players; the aviation industry and the governments.

The aviation industry is not really the problem. They have the equipment and the crews.  They have fixed costs and calculate what is needed to make a profit.  One could argue about how cost-effective they are and what is considered a reasonable profit margin. And that’s it. Yet, one should also consider the entrepreneurial risks they are taking.

On the other side, you have the governments. For one, they have no risks in the aviation operation. Just benefits. Yet, they want a random tax contribution per passenger; no particular calculation. Mind that landing fees are different than taxes, and they do have a particular justification. So, what justifies the passenger tax? Inter-island or international, it doesn’t make a difference.

Major airlines are polite to governments. They listen politely when representatives of tourism or airport authorities are courting, or flirting, and trying to convince them to come on over. However, the operators don’t tell governments where to go; they just don’t put the destination on their schedule.

Except for one airline, or rather one airline boss, who is well-known for telling anyone where to go, or in clear text expressing ‘that they can shove it’. Ryanair decided in October last year that it would drop 16 routes and 600 jobs after an Italian government’s tax hike. It would also result in 800,000 client losses according to their calculations.

Their explanation: "Ryanair had no choice but to close two of its 15 Italian bases, and move its aircraft, pilots and crews to countries that have lower tourism costs. The tax increase will seriously damage Italian tourism, and it would hand a golden opportunity for growth to destinations in Spain, Portugal and Greece that have lower tourism costs.”

Governments love Low Cost Carriers because they lure tourists with low fares. Exactly for that reason, they believe that the LCC will bring the oh-so desired passengers by the masses. Yet, then they slam the air passenger duty on top of the fares, to the extent that those are nearly double. Does that make sense? So, before the passengers don’t show up and seats remain empty, the airline doesn’t open a route or terminates it. That does make entrepreneurial sense!

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the Earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return," according to a quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Anyone who is less than a genius may tell you that when the taste of flight fare turns from sweet to bitter, he will not turn his eyes skyward in all directions anymore.

Governments can argue until they turn blue or green why a passenger tax is needed or why they believe it is justified. They may even feel proud and protzy when they believe that they won the argument.  However, the tourists have the last word in determining what price is acceptable for their vacation budget.

Monies that had to work and save a whole year, to make their dream retreat come true. Taxes are not a dream incentive; they are a repellent. For tourists, there are plenty of options near and far in the geography, where the temperatures are warm, the platinum beaches are lined with palm trees, and where they are received with open arms. Governments can try to have it their way; but tourists for sure will find it their way…., somewhere else.

By Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

Cdr. Bud Slabbaert is the organizer of the annual Caribbean Aviation Meetup conference. He has an extensive background in aviation and business development as well as in related journalism. 

COMMENTARY: The comments are the sole responsibility of the author. 


First half of 2017 ranks 2nd hottest globally, behind 2016

SINT MAARTEN/CARIBBEAN - The first half of 2017 was the second warmest on record for Earth, only behind last year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday Earth’s average temperature from January to June was 57.9 degrees (14.4 degrees Celsius). That’s 1.6 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

Natural El Niños spike global temperatures. But NOAA climate scientist Ahira Sánchez-Lugo says it is remarkable that 2017 without an El Niño so far beats all but the super El Niño year of 2016.

She says that’s the world changing into an ever-warming climate.

Record warmth was measured in much of Mexico, Western Europe, eastern Russia, eastern Africa and eastern China. The U.S. had its second warmest start.

Globally, June was the third warmest on record. Records go back to 1880. (AP, By Seth Borenstein)


US says ban on laptops in airplane cabins has been lifted, Airports have to increase security

SINT MAARTEN/CARIBBEAN — The ban on laptops in the cabins of planes flying from the Middle East to the U.S. is over, as federal officials say that large airports in the region have taken other steps to increase security.

Those measures include checking electronic devices to make sure they don’t contain a bomb, and pulling more people out of airport lines for additional screening.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday that all airlines and airports with flights departing for the U.S. had met the agency’s first phase of new security measures, which were announced in late June but not described in any detail.

In March, the U.S. imposed a ban on laptops in the cabins of planes coming into the country from 10 Middle Eastern airports. This week, King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was the last of the 10 to comply with U.S. security measures and exit the laptop-ban list.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the laptop ban was a “pause,” a stopgap measure until airports could make other security improvements. It grew from fear that terrorists were working on bombs that can be hidden in devices such as laptop and tablet computers.

“We tested it on a real airplane on the ground, pressurized (as an airliner is during flight), and to say the least it destroyed the airplane,” Kelly said Wednesday at a security conference in Colorado. He added that intelligence reports indicated terrorists lacked the ability to detonate such a bomb remotely — meaning they couldn’t trigger a bomb in the cargo hold while sitting in the cabin.

Some safety experts cautioned, however, that putting devices with lithium ion batteries that are prone to overheating in cargo increased the risk of fire.

Now the Federal Aviation Administration is telling airlines that that devices with lithium batteries should be put in carry-on baggage and not placed in checked luggage — the advice that existed before the March order covering large electronics devices in the cabin.

Kelly said most of the new security measures will not be visible to passengers. He said, however, that there will be additional testing of devices — to make sure they are working computers and not a disguised bomb — and more people will be pulled aside for extra screening. He did not say how agents will decide who gets pulled aside. (By The Associated Press, David Koenig)


Amsterdam to boost social housing sector, 40% of new homes rent controlled

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Amsterdam city council has decided that 40% of new homes built within the city’s boundaries must fall under social housing rules, meaning the rent can be no more than €710 a month.

A further 40% must target middle income households with rents of around €850 per month or be affordable to middle income home buyers, councillors decided on Wednesday evening.

The remaining properties will target high earners. Currently just 30% of new homes must be social housing and there are no restrictions on the rest. ‘If we leave it to the market, people with a low or moderate income will no longer be able to live in Amsterdam,’ Laurens Ivens, the city’s housing alderman and a member of the Socialist party, said earlier.

The city council hopes the plan will make it possible for more teachers, police officers and other people in professions with moderate pay to make the capital their home.

Research shows that some 80% of new owner-occupier properties within the A10 ring road cost more than €400,000, while rents of €1,500 for a one-bedroom flat have become the norm.

House prices in the capital have soared by 20% in the past year. However, the plan, which was not supported by city coalition partner D66, has been criticised by building companies.

‘Over the past few years, Amsterdam has tried to boost the number of owner-occupied properties,’ Taco van Hoek, of the building sector economic institute EIB told the Parool.

‘To some extent this has helped, but nevertheless, just 30% of the city’s homes are owner occupied, compared with 60% in the country at large.’ (DutchNews)

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