The US Virgin Islands intends to open up seaplane operations between St. Thomas SPB and St. Croix SPB to other operators, ending the exclusive rights Seaborne Airlines (BB, San Juan Luis Muñoz Marin) currently enjoys on the route.

This was the word from Carlton Dowe, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA), during a briefing on August 12, 2022, to the territory's Legislative Assembly's Finance Committee.

Dowe said Silver Airways (3M, Fort Lauderdale International), the parent company of Puerto Rico-based Seaborne Airlines, had approached the Port Authority about renewing its exclusive contract, which was nearing its end. However, the VIPA board had agreed that exclusivity was off the table, reported The Virgin Islands Consortium.

"We have drawn a line. Right now, as we speak, they have indicated that they want to renew this lease; we've told them unequivocally 'no' unless that issue can be solved."

He was referring to an exclusive harbour lease contract between VIPA and Silver Airways, which the latter acquired when it bought Seaborne Airlines in April 2018. As reported, the lease is ongoing and used for the carrier's float-equipped DHC-6-300 operations.

Dowe responded to Committee Chairman Kurt Vialet, who charged that VIPA had failed to ensure better service for the local population when it didn't oppose Silver Airways when the exclusivity dispute came up at renewal discussions in 2018.

"When they sold to Silver Airways, the seaplane contract had expired, and we were at that point saying we wanted to have more than one airline going in. Then Silver [Airways] purchased Seaborne [Airlines], and then there was a back and forth with Silver [Airways] saying [they] were supposed to be exclusive, and I thought we were going to fight that so that we could open back up that particular port," Vialet said. He criticised Seaborne Airlines for not improving the seaplane base and for services he deemed inadequate. "They got two flights and [are] cancelling every day," he claimed.

Vialet said accessibility for the US Virgin Islands was even more problematic since Cape Air (9K, Hyannis) had cut back services because of a pilot shortage. "Cape Air has severely cut back on flights because of a lack of pilots; you can barely get to St. Thomas on a regular basis. So I hope that we don't move in that direction again."

A Cape Air spokesperson confirmed the US regional carrier had reduced frequency to, from, and within the US Virgin Islands due to a nationwide pilot shortage. "Like many other airlines, we are facing challenging times. We are continuously monitoring demand, and we are committed to providing a reliable service to our US Virgin Island customers as we have for the last 25 plus years. We have the capacity to adapt quickly, so as we get more pilots on our roster we will try to bring frequency to normal," she said.

Seaborne Airlines/Silver Airways did not respond to a request for comment. Seaborne Airlines was initially headquartered in the US Virgin Islands before relocating to Puerto Rico. It entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2018 before Silver Airways fully acquired it. The airline operates two Twin Otters wet-leased from Kenn Borek Air (KBA, Calgary) and two Saab 340Bs, according to the ch-aviation fleets module.