TLC Aviation and Sea Grapes International have forged a partnership to provide the only seamless jet-to-yacht service in the Caribbean.
Jet setters are about to descend on St. Maarten and its surrounding islands for Christmas and now have a unique company to help them make the transition from their private jets to their yachts this season.
The Logical Choice (TLC) Aviation is one of two fixed base operators (FBOs) serving the business aviation community at St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) but it is the only company in the Caribbean that also serves the yachting community through its partnership with Sea Grapes International. The partners – TLC Operations Manager Sheldon Palm and Sea Grapes Business Development Manager Earl Wyatt – offer complete jet-to-yacht services becoming an easy one-stop-shop for those headed to the seven satellite islands that surround St. Maarten. Sea Grapes also acts as a yacht broker for the different companies who have private boats that range from 42 to 70 feet all the way to the mega yachts. Conveniently, the harbor is in Simpson Bay, on the other side of the airport, although mega yachts that are more than 100 feet have to use the cruise port in Phillipsburg.
Simpson Bay, near Princess Juliana Airport, is one of the main yacht terminals at St. Maarten for craft under 100 feet.
“Christmas is huge,” said Palm, who is expecting a bumper crop of business aviation aircraft during the November-to-April season. “The airport is a logical transition point because it is literally cheaper to park your jet than it is to park your car at the airport. In addition, travelers can’t fly directly to St. Barth and Saba because the runways are very short and very challenging as noted in a previous story about the area. SXM is also tax free, unlike many of the other islands around us, which lowers the cost of fuel and provisions.”
Services include liaison with both jet and yacht crews, provisioning and planning, allowing the smoothest jet-to-yacht transition in the Caribbean region. Other services include office assistance, dock reservations, fuel and waste management, laundry and dry cleaning, executive ground transport as well as customs and immigration. They also arrange for forward travel to Saba and St. Barth through relationships with Windward Express, Winair and St. Bart’s Commuter, the only airlines allowed to serve the two islands.
“About 50% of the business aviation arrivals go on to St. Barth using either a chartered boat or their own yacht,” Palm told Forbes. “Creating the two companies for jets and yachts in 2003 was a natural fit. It takes a lot of work to link the two luxury businesses but customers love it.” Palm and Wyatt have two other partners Managing Director Steven Kong and Ramp Operations Manager Clement Richardson.
Palm advises advanced planning, however. “We get pretty full during the high traffic times which also include Martin Luther King’s Birthday weekend, President’s Day and Easter,” he said, adding that the U.S. is the largest market for the area. “During those periods we get 30 to 40 jets a day at our company alone. Between those peak times, the average traffic is about 20 aircraft daily. Two things are changing, however, and that is increased business from Central and South America and non-seasonal activity.
Summertime is the low season but this year we broke records and are at the highest level of corporate jets than I’ve ever seen in my entire time in the Caribbean.”
A bumper crop of business aviation and private aircraft are expected for the Christmas and other holidays this season so book your parking space early.
Palm attributes that to airport marketing efforts, which have succeeded in attracting two airlines from Panama – PAWA and Copa. Copa Airlines is especially significant since it has created a world-renowned hub at Panama City, rapidly becoming popular with those traveling between South America, Europe and Asia.
“We are seeing more traffic in our summer because, of course, that is the South American winter,” said Palm. “During the high season, which runs from November to April, a lot of aircraft have to park on other islands because we can’t accommodate them. That increases the costs for the owner. The other reason for the rise in traffic is people are much more confident in the economy. But it is not just the business jet traffic coming here. They are also investing in aircraft, in property and yachts. So we have seen all aspects of the business expand.”