It Takes Two To Tango: Aviation in the Netherlands Antilles

An Insel Air Fokker 50 taxis to its gate at Hato International Airport | (Photo: By Cursector7 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Since the 1990s, there has been a significant expansion in tourism of the Netherlands Antilles islands in the Caribbean, specifically Curacao and Aruba in the Southern Caribbean. Given the islands’ increasing popularity, a unique scenario has continued to occur as two airlines have continued to battle for domination in this small market.

Both islands had seen significant competition between ALM Antillean Airlines, which had serviced the islands since 1964, and the much younger Air Aruba, which had operated out of Queen Beatrix International Airport since 1988. Air Aruba’s marketability quickly allowed it to expand to meet ALM Antillean Airlines via partnerships with KLM and Continental.

However, rising fuel prices and increases in operating costs in the islands started to take its toll of the two carriers in the late 1990s. Both airlines started to downsize their route maps in hopes of staying airborne.

A Turn Toward Bankruptcy

By the 21st century, entering bankruptcy seemed to be inevitable for Air Aruba, and it quickly opted to do so in 2000. The airline cited rising costs in what was a seasonal destination as the reason for the bankruptcy, and would never take to the skies again. ALM Antillean was the next to fall just a few months later, grounding the fleet of Dash 8s and McDonnell-Douglas MD-80s in early 2001.

With both island based-carriers grounded and airlines of the surrounding islands downsizing as well, the Netherlands Antilles would have to rely on foreign airlines to service the islands. Fortunately, from the ashes of ALM rose Dutch Caribbean Airlines (DCA). The carrier took over a few of the old ALM aircraft as well as began adding larger Boeing 767-300s to service Europe. The carrier launched in 2002 from their hub in Hato.

Short Signs of Life with New Airlines

While DCA began starting service, the new airline was not alone. Exel Aviation Group decided to start operations in the Netherlands Antilles as well with the beginning of its new brand, BonairExel. The airline started with smaller Embraer ERJ-145s to island hop between Bonair, Aruba and Curacao. The island hopping service was a huge success, and to counter the demand the Exel Group added the ATR 42 to the fleet and created a second carrier called Curacao Exel.

While the Exel Aviation Group was…

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