The Flying Bottomless Pit
In 2000, ALM Antillean Airlines had deteriorated to the point where it just couldn't be kept alive any longer. It was overloaded with personnel, many of whom had gotten their jobs as a reward from political parties. Strong suspicions exist that fraud and corruption, not to mention downright stealing by workers and management, were endemic. ALM had built up an enormous debt of reportedly 340M in the years since 1969, when the Antillean government had taken over shares from KLM.
To get out of this impasse, the company was taken over by Air ALM, owned by the same DC Holding that owned ALM Antillean Airlines and, later, DCA Dutch Caribbean Airlines. Ownership of DC Holding passed from the Antillean government to the Curaçao island government and was controlled by Foundation DC Beheer. It seems workers' rights were guaranteed by the Antillean government.
After an interlude that did not last longer than a couple of months, it turned out that Air ALM could not survive, and a similar construction was used to transfer assets once again, this time to DCA Dutch Caribbean Airlines. ALM was declared bankrupt in 2002. New 2000 director Mario Evertsz was to prepare the company for privatization in less than six months. (In Aruba, the company was named DCE Dutch Caribbean Express, because the company name DCA had been registered already.) Between ALM in 2000 and DCA in 2004, personnel shrunk from 1000 to about 500 workers.
ALM route map
compare with KLM-WIB
W.W.II route map
The Mid-Atlantic War
The final joint activity of ALM and KLM had been when KLM invested in ALM's new catering building. KLM was still using Curaçao as the connecting hub for the South America-Europe flights; an extremely profitable operation with a tradition of cooperation between KLM and ALM, the latter providing part of the crews and handling ground services.
But DCA started competing with KLM here by starting CUR-AMS flights with Dutch Citybird, against lower prices. Citybird went bankrupt and was followed up by Sobelair, a division of Belgian Sabena.
Meanwhile, other companies like Air Holland joined the fray, with prices as low as ANG245. DCA arrogantly kicked out travel agencies that dared sell competing Air Holland tickets; then, when Sobelair went bankrupt with Sabena, DCA started flying with Air Holland! After Air Holland folded in turn, DCA desperately tried contracting other charter companies, and finally ended with a big mess: Passengers were left stranded in Amsterdam and Curaçao, DCA lacking the resources and even money to fulfill their obligations. Here's the ugly story on DCA's disastrous CUR-AMS misadventures.
I missed a chance to take a picture of this billboard:KLM's Revenge
still on display while their passengers were stuck
Curaçao has three things to be proud of:
The Flag — The Hymn — and DCA
(maybe they had more pressing matters to worry about)
Of course the challenge was taken up - KLM all of a sudden, but to nobody's surprise, could offer lower prices as well. DCA was punished when KLM ended using Hato airport as a hub, moving their stops on South America flights to Bonaire. This is not so great for Bonaire as you might expect - they are stuck with the costs for a longer runway etc. to accommodate KLM. In the near future, Bonaire's Flamingo Airport will turn into the same sort of white elephant as Shannon/Ireland or Gander/Newfoundland, as a 777 will be able to fly from Europe to Quito/Ecuador without refueling.
Even sooner, in July 2005, Bonaire politician Jopie Abraham has been complaining that the airport hadn't paid back anything. And when in August 2006 KLM announced they would shortly start direct flights to the South American continent with Boeing 777s, this showed only too plainly that the Bonaire government had been suckered into wasting their voters' money. It took only two years for ourwhite elephantprediction to come true, even if, for the time being, the MD-11 flights to Ecuador will have to continue stopping over on Bonaire. While I have to admit I'm smarter than the average guy, I still can't explain why we must get
politicians that are so plain dumb.
The news about KLM stopping Bonaire operations was followed by Curoil claiming ANG16M from Bonaire, as they had exclusive rights to selling fuel to Flamingo airport, while Bonaire had preferred to do business with (Aruba) Coastal, later Valero, oil as their prices were lower. Bonaire deputy Abraham declares Bonaire cannot (this we can believe) and will not (this we'll have to see) pay.
What a Waste
In March 2007, Government accounting watchdog Algemene Rekenkamer published a crushing criticism on the Bonaire airport renovation. Of 25M costs, 1.7M was just thrown away. Preparations for the work were faulty. At the time the project started,costs and financing were still obscure.It was hard to control processes, as essential documents are not available. Accountability wasstrictly insufficient.Work was given to two collaborating contractors without any public tender, there was no competition between suppliers. Coordination wasnot transparent. 66.7 hectares (160 acres) of terrain have been given to Bonaire airport illegally, and have not been returned.
Two days or so later, on Bonaire the present party-in-charge accused the former one of all this; and, but naturally! the other way round. But Willems (now safely out of politics) claims over 8M has disappeared, and that he warned a scandal would break out eventually. Too bad he didn't warn anybody but only, privately, politicians.
As a result of KLM's move to Bonaire, on Curaçao Hato airport DCA's catering department had nothing more to do. The building was auctioned in October 2002, by KLM, and did not even get an opening bid of 1/3 the building cost. 18 months after opening, the building's value was estimated at a mere 50% of what it had cost new. The actual mortgage debt on the building had grown to 8M, when it was finally bought in an August 2004 auction by (only bidder) KLM, for 1.35M. DCA (still the national airline of the Netherlands Antilles) then proceeded to rip out everything in the building they could lay their hands on, down to airco units, water closets and lavatory basins. A KLM lawyer physically sat down on one large airco unit to keep it from being stolen, and all locks had to be changed the very same day.
Meanwhile, plenty of other airlines tried to get in on the mid Atlantic route, which has often been described asa gold mine.
KLM's final revenge may be a new company Curaçao Airways
to go on where they left off when ALM was taken over
(just like Exel)
Good show, this! With modest aircraft they keep to their schedule and just get you from Curaçao to Bonaire v.v. Make money, too, while charging much less than DCA did.
Desperate people have been searching this site for their phone number. In Curaçao, it's (+ 5999) - 888 1050.
When BonairExel started competing with DCA on the ABC islands routes, connecting Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, DCA lowered their prices almost to Dividivi Air's level, and forced BonairExel to fly that cheaply as well. After DCA stopped operating, BonairExel raised their prices again, but not to DCA's original level.DCA suddenly started flying with a much higher frequency, and BonairExel had to sue FOL's then minister of transport Salas twice before he finally had to give in and allowed them 14 flights a week (DCA got 28). Keep in mind here that DCA was an airline from Curaçao and Exel one from Bonaire, both from the same country Salas was a minister of.
SLM Surinam Air Lines
(you can make him out
behind cigar, under toupee)
These guys, another colonial KLM relic, thought they could fill in what DCA left empty, and announced so. Looks like nothing but a pipe dream; they lack aircraft, expertise and personnel. Come to think of it, they lack capital, too.
Avior from Venezuela is another matter; they want to take over as well. Their handicap is the Venezuelan government will not permit them to fly to foreign destinations without connecting stops to Venezuelan airports.
More Money Lost
Under Mario Evertsz' management things grew worse, fast. Instead of preparing the company for privatization, as he was instructed to do, DCA started the AMS-CUR competition with KLM and bought or leased more and more aircraft. In February 2003, the fleet consisted of De Havilland Dash 8, Douglas DC9-30 and McDonnell-Douglas MD82. That month, DCA announced going back to Twin Otters, but acquired more old DC9-30s instead. All this resulted in growing losses.
By 2004, things were so bad that once again DCA applied for several loans, and, amazingly, got them. In that year alone, at least 37M was given to DCA to enable the company to continue operating. In July, with one DC-9 left in operation, Evertsz resigned as DCA director—without telling anyone he staid on as director of Curaçao Airlines and Winair.
Finally, in October 2004, the bubble collapsed. By then, the DCA story had cost us a total of at least 800M, but with their incredibly sloppy accounting this may well be much more.It certainly does not include time and money lost in the insane delays of theAltijd Laat Maatschappij[Always Late Company] and the exorbitant prices we had to pay for their services. For example, when American Airlines opened a service MIA-CUR they were forced to charge the same high price DCA asked. AA later was allowed to charge a lower price for tickets bought in Miami.
This was routine; one more example: For tickets CUR-Kingston/Jamaica, ALM charged less for tickets bought in Jamaica, while they were the only airline flying the route.
The DCA breakdown almost led to our third government crisis in two years
but that dirty story about politicians abusing their power still has not come to an end.
We can only wish it had; and not only about DCA.
Amounts are in ANG, Antillean guilders; US$1=ANG1.8 ~ ANG1=US$.55.
1K=1 thousand, 1M=1 million and 1 G=1 billion.
Passenger Opinions on DCA (site disappeared... they were B.A.D.
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