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American Eagle awaiting federal approval of Ports security plan to start S.J. to Vieques

P.R. Ports Authority expects approval within weeks; foresees the airline starting its flights this summer


March 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Three years have passed since American Eagle envisioned offering a flight connection from San Juan to Vieques and back, now the airline is waiting for the overdue federal Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) approval of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority security plan to be able to kick off the service.

The Ports Authority submitted a security plan to TSA six months ago, said Ports Authority Executive Director Fernando Bonilla. "We expect it to be approved within the next few weeks. Immediately after receiving this approval, the airport must implement the security measures indicated in the plan," Bonilla added.

"We expect American Eagle to be able to fly to Vieques this summer, because the airline can do so without the Ports Authority’s official certification from TSA, which we expect to receive sometime in 2006," Bonilla said. The TSA certification is required to "federalize" or assign federal homeland security employees to Vieques Airport for final-destination luggage checks. Bonilla explained American Eagle would first have to begin operating the route as proof of good faith and commitment to flying the route.

American Airlines Marketing & Planning Director Pedro Fábregas explained once the Ports Authority security plan is approved by TSA, American Eagle will need to submit its own security plan to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Principal Security Inspector for approval and recommendations to initiate the flights because Vieques Airport is certified but it lacks the security infrastructure needed to comply with the new federal Homeland Security regulations.

Fábregas said the airline would begin offering the daily 2 p.m., 15-minute flight from Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport to Vieques 60 days after it receives notice from the Ports Authority indicating TSA had approved the agency’s security plan. American Eagle plans to satisfy the growing demand for flights to the island municipality with one 64-seat Super ATR plane, manned by two pilots and two flight attendants. The airline expects 70% of the passenger traffic going to Vieques to use American Airlines to reconnect to other U.S. destinations, Fábregas stated.

"Having studied the tourism history of Vieques, I know there is a high demand for this flight, especially from tour operators, and if we are successful in marketing Vieques as a new tourist destination offering good food, security, and a unique experience, the island could compete with islands like St. Thomas and St. Croix," Fábregas said, adding American Eagle Vieques flight prices would compete favorably with other airlines serving the island municipality.

Vieques Air Link presently provides flight connections to both Isla Grande and Luis Muñoz Marín International airports in San Juan, as well as to Fajardo, Culebra, and St. Croix. The airline also plans to open a route connecting Vieques to St. Maarten, and to the Dominican Republic where they have found a high demand (CB Jan. 27).

A study conducted by Gustavo Vélez of Strategic Consulting Group for the municipality of Culebra reveals the demand for flights to Vieques and Culebra will double within the next five years (CB June 17, 2004), reaching 365,771 passengers by 2008.

The Aviation & Transportation Security Act (ATSA) was enacted Nov. 16, 2001, creating the TSA, which took over the aviation security functions of the FAA. Section 132(a) of the ATSA requires the undersecretary of Transportation for security to "implement a security program for charter air carriers with a maximum certificated takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds or more."

In 1984, American Airlines established American Eagle as its regional airline affiliate. The American Eagle network is the largest regional airline system in the world, with over 1,600 daily flights to more than 140 cities throughout the U.S., Canada, 25 Caribbean islands, including the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, and Mexico. In 1982, a new holding company, AMR Corp., was formed and became the parent company of American Airlines. The name AMR was taken from the airline’s three-letter New York Stock Exchange symbol.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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