USVI Welcomes Fly the Whale Airline Service Connecting St. Croix and St. Thomas
Today, the Virgin Islands Port Authority hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to welcome Fly the Whale, the newest airline to provide air service between St. Croix and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. VIPA Executive Director Carlton Dowe, VIPA Board Chairman Willard John, and Territorial Airport Manager Jerome Sheridan were joined by Governor Albert Bryan Jr., Senate President Novelle E. Francis Jr., Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte, and the President of Fly the Whale, Omer Erselcuk, at today’s ceremony held in the Bohlke International Hangar at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
Fly the Whale will begin daily flights between St. Croix and St. Thomas with a soft launch of four flights on Friday, April 27, 2023 - just in time for Crucians to enjoy some of the Carnival festivities on St. Thomas. The official start date of the new service is Saturday, April 28, 2023. Flights can be booked online at www.flythewhale.com.
Negotiations between VIPA and Erselcuk to start the St. Croix/St. Thomas air service started in 2020 but was paused due to economic conditions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The discussions resumed in March this year and fast-tracked as the territory experienced the negative impacts of a lack of pilots and inter-territory airlift. In addition to offering much-needed inter-island travel options, Erselcuk said Fly the Whale plans to hire over 20 Virgin Islanders.
Dowe commended the VIPA Board of Governors for approving an incentive program that makes it attractive for airlines to offer new routes to and within the U.S. Virgin Islands. He also thanked his management team for their hard work and for working after hours and on holidays to bring this new service to fruition. Dowe also expressed his appreciation for the continued support and assistance received from the Legislature of the Virgin Islands and the Bryan/Roach Administration.
VIPA’s Board Chairman, Willard John, stressed the importance of having reliable, safe service between the islands. He described how he often experienced the frustration of no available flights to travel between St. Croix and St. Thomas for VIPA-related business. While he appreciates the new flight options for business purposes, John added that it is also essential for the Virgin Islands communities to have access to the other islands. “We are one Virgin Islands, and this brings us closer together,” he said.
Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte lauded the new air service. “As important to visitors coming to our territory is the ability for us residents to move between the islands,” Boschulte added that this new airlift will allow travelers to visit St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix on a day or overnight trips without worrying about the availability of return flights.
Governor Bryan stated that Fly the Whale has answered the people’s cry for more inter-island travel options. He said that the new air service would connect the islands and could also bridge the economic divide between St. Croix and St. Thomas. “We have to understand that we are building a product that we want to be proud of. Like Dowe said, the Caribbean is not waiting on us. We want to be the leader.”
At its April 19, 2023, meeting, VIPA’s Board approved a lease agreement between the Authority and Fly the Whale for three years for ticket counter and office spaces at the HERA and CEKA Terminal. Fly the Whale’s operations in the USVI will be based on St. Croix.
Watch today’s ceremony (recorded live): https://fb.watch/k6KfEFOltl/