Between September 10 and December 31, the number of aircraft activity recorded by Saint Barthelemy Airport was 45 percent lower. However, over the same period, the activity of private or charter flights increased by 45 percent.
“Everything commercial companies can’t transport, private pilots have taken over,” Fabrice Danet, Director of Remy de Haenen airport, said. “Some have taken advantage of the situation and are charging passengers €700 a flight, and make rotations a little too regular … similar to public transport, but without an airline.
“This practice is completely illegal. A private pilot has the right to offer ‘flight sharing’, which shares costs with other passengers, to prevent the aircraft from flying empty, within a certain limit. But the pilot has no right to make it a commercial activity as such.”
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC) is closely monitoring the situation, and has recently opened an investigation against a private pilot operating in Guadeloupe.
“We are well aware that a number of small malignant take advantage of the situation created by the hurricaine. Currently, especially on the North Islands, a lot is happening,” said Marc Balland, Head of the DGAC Surveillance Department.
“There is clearly a shift, because private flights are organised. The rates charged indicate that it is not cost sharing, the customer often pays three times the price of one hour of flight time. ”
The DGAC already devised a plan of action to combat this practice a few years ago, to inform travellers, who sometimes ignore the illegal nature of these benefits. “Pilots have already been sanctioned in the past. Recently, there has been massive deterrence, and that is really something that concerns us. Because the risk is great: in the event of an accident, insurance and compensation issues are very different from those of an airline.
“In addition, at the security level, it’s not at all the same,” added Mr Balland. “Those engaged in the illicit transportation of passengers face heavy criminal penalties, which could lead to imprisonment.”