Published On: Wed, Jan 4th, 2023

Winair is doing well: repaying its loan and expanding its fleet

PHILIPSBURG — Winair is doing very well. The airline started in October of last year with the repayment of the $3 million loan it obtained in 2020 from the Netherlands and in a couple of months it will expand its fleet with two ATR42-500 aircraft that will service nine different destinations. Winair has also published a vacancy for the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The contract of the current CEO, Michael Cleaver expired at the end of last year, but it has been extended by three months.

Michael Ferrier lauded Winair for its current performance. In a letter to the editor, he stated that Winair is the only Caribbean airline that has managed to stay in business uninterrupted for sixty years. He praised the supervisory board, headed by Georges Greaux Jr., the son of founder Capt. Georges Greaux Sr., CEO Michael Cleaver, Chief Financial Officer Robert Gibbs, director of operations Capt. Edwin Hodge and sales director Claudio Buncamper. The latter is, according to aviation insiders, the ideal candidate to succeed Cleaver as Winair’s next CEO. Buncamper has applied for the position.

Winair published the vacancy for a new CEO on its website. The deadline for applications was December 26, 2022. Deloitte is handling the search for the new director. The vacancy ad mentions that the company currently has 130 employees and that a successful candidate must have at least ten years managerial experience in the aviation sector.

In December 2020 Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, at the time the Dutch Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management reacted positive to Winair’s request for a loan. The company put up its building at the airport as collateral. There was one condition: Winair had to execute two daily flights between St. Maarten and the islands of Saba and Statia during the term of the loan. Nieuwenhuizen’s successor Mark Harbers wrote to the Dutch parliament that the airline aims to repay the principal of the loan plus 4.41 percent interest in 15 monthly installments.

When he read about Winair’s commitment to its financial obligations Michael Ferrier “beamed with pride,” as he wrote in his letter to the editor. “This government-owned company is standing tall by working with integrity and keeping on track with its commitments, both financially and socially. It has managed to keep its head way higher than any of the other government-owned companies.”

Ferrier had also something to say about political interference with the airline. “When parliamentarians, active and suspended, only know to criticize and ‘pong’ the board and management of our national airline, I wonder where their sense of St. Maarten pride is.”

Winair was founded in 1961 by Georges Greaux Sr., with additional investments from Hyppolite Ledee, Louis Richardson and a handful of others. Operations began on July 5, 1962. Windward Islands Airway International, started flying De Haviland Canada DHC-6 twin-otters in 1965. The Winair timetable of December 1, 1963, mentions that the airline was operating Dornier Do-28 and Piper Apache aircraft both with STOL-capability. STOL stands for Short Takeoff and Landing, something Winair needed for landing at the extremely short runway on Saba.

On November 17, 2022, Winair announced the acquisition of two ATR-42 500 aircraft. The first of these planes is scheduled to be delivered in March, the second one will follow in April. The expansion of the airline comes after 6 years of an ACMI-lease partnership with Air Antilles.

The new aircraft will service the following destinations: Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Dominica and Port au Prince (Guadeloupe), Antigua, Tortola, St. Lucia and Barbados.

Michael Ferrier sums it up nicely at the end of his letter to the editor: “Bravo Winair. Show them what it takes to run a government-owned company successfully.”