The Dutch government is considering imposing a public service obligation (PSO) on routes between the Dutch Caribbean islands of St. Maarten, Saint Eustatius, and Saba (the SSS islands), according to the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Barbara Visser.

In written answers to questions posed by Jorien Wuite and Kiki Hagen, both members of the social liberal Democrats 66 party and the House of Representatives, Visser agreed that proper connectivity to and between the Caribbean Netherlands islands was of great importance and that the Dutch government had a responsibility to ensure their accessibility.

A PSO was one of the solutions proposed by the Caribbean Netherlands Connectivity Committee chaired by former KLM Royal Dutch Airlines director Pieter Hartman, Visser noted in her reply. The two MPs had queried why the recommendations of the report had not yet been implemented and how the government intended to guarantee connectivity on thin traffic routes which were not always deemed viable by commercial airlines.

“For this reason, the Dutch government has tried since 2010, through a state participation in the airline Winair (WM, St. Maarten), to maintain the air connections on the thinnest routes (to Saba and Sint Eustatius),” Visser stated. Aside from a PSO, she was also assessing the possibilities of relaxing the requirements to establish new airlines.

She confirmed that state participation in Winair had been re-evaluated recently. “I am now assessing how to implement the recommendations from that evaluation. In that framework, I am assessing the possibility of a public service obligation on the routes between St. Maarten, Saba, and St Eustatius. The evaluation, including the follow-up, is currently being discussed with the departments that are most directly involved,” she stated.

Asked by the two lawmakers about the status of Winair’s request to receive more financial support, she repeated her earlier statement that in principle it was up to the country St. Maarten to support its national airline.

Should the Dutch government declare PSOs on routes between Sint Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba, this could mean that The Hague would subsidise a carrier, most likely Winair, to provide consistent air service to the two smaller islands, reported The Daily Herald newspaper in Sint Maarten. A subsidy could also result in lower ticket prices, in particular for the residents of Statia and Saba, it speculated.