Dutch Antilles Express

Holland Exel was the fourth Dutch airline of any weight, and, since a merger with Dutch Bird, the only independent one. Or so they said, until it turned out (February 2005) that, in reality, KLM was a major force behind Exel. That same month HollandExel was bought out by German tour organization TUI, not having anything to do with the rest of Exel Aviation Group. New company name is ArkeFly. Flights AMS-CUR will be continued.
Other Dutch airlines are KLM Royal Dutch Airlines/Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij, holding 50% in (mainly charter flyers) Martinair and 100% in Transavia. In 2004, KLM itself was largely taken over by Air France.

Holland Exel started operating on the Bonaire-Curaçao-Aruba route in 2003. When Air Holland went bankrupt, they started competing with KLM and DCA on the mid-Atlantic flights Amsterdam-Curaçao, offering very reasonable deals. Even before DCA went bankrupt, CuraçaoExel had started flying Curaçao-St. Maarten. Exel later in 2004 took over Winair, the airline of the Windward Islands from the Antillean government. WinAir went back to the governments of the three windwards islands, two years later.
Twin Otter
Winair De Havilland Twin Otter

Privately held Winair, maintaining connections between the Dutch St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius and other islands like St. Kitts, was taken over by the Netherlands Antillean government in 1969, when it also acquired the majority of ALM shares. From 2000, it has been managed by Mario Evertsz, also manager of DCA and CAL. A bankruptcy of Winair was avoided in the nick of time by take-over by Exel as WindwardExel; at that point, Winair's assets were worth less than its debts.
After, in October 2004, merging with another Holland independent, Dutch Bird, Exel director Harm Prins announced to open new routes shortly, connecting the Netherlands Antilles with Trinidad & Tobago, Santo Domingo, Panama, Miami, Memphis and Newark NJ (a popular alternative to get to New York City). Routes operated with their already bought Boeing 737 and Dutch Bird's two Airbus 320 aircraft. One result of the take-over was supposed to be that Exel could start operating on DCA routes by November 1.

Exel's plans are amazingly parallel to
KLM's original intentions with their
West Indisch Bedrijf
routes WIB
- to use Curaçao as a hub
for the Americas and Europe.

They could very well have succeed where KLM-WIB's successors ALM and DCA failed (if politicians can refrain from sabotage because of petty jealousy, after DCA's definite bankruptcy there is still talk about a semi-government company.) So, Plesman was right after all and, maybe, all is not lost, yet: Even KLM is rumored to think about a new company Curaçao Airways.

The Exel operating company on Bonaire island was Dutch Eagle Express;
their lines are operated under brand names like BonairExel.
Those names have now been discontinued.
On December 8, 2004 Dutch Exel president Harm Prins was arrested because of alleged fraud, extortion and money laundering. This was soon after similar arrests took place at Air Holland. One week later, assets of Holland Exel were frozen by the tax receiver because personnel's income tax had not been paid.

As one result, Antillean transport minister Leeflang stopped a charter permit which she had just plucked out of the procedural mill, where it had been delayed for over a year. BonairExel was a different company from HollandExel, separately owned.

In January 2005, Dutch Eagle Exel announced they would start a regional airline as a joint venture with KLM, who did not definitely confirm this. The name Exel would not be used. This will not affect the Dutch Caribbean Exel flights CUR-AMS which will be continued. By the end of January, KLM announced a decision would be reached before March, while Exel kept insisting the deal was as good as signed.

But by February 2005, secret documents were leaked by an ex-Exel manager. KLM seems to have been heavily involved with Exel all the time, long before Air France took over. This may be one cause of the present trouble, as KLM now has less of a free hand in its wheelings and dealings. Allegations that KLM was plotting to kill DCA look more like jumping to conclusions than seriously substantiated, even if this is a trick KLM has often tried. With Exel Holland taken over by TUI, BonairExel claims they will continue operating (for both, under what names is not clear as yet), when Dutch weekly Vrij Nederland publishes several very critical articles on BonairExel director Niek Sandmann, nicknamed decennia ago Viceroy of Bonaire.
The names BonairExel and CuraçaoExel were then changed to BonairExpress and CuraçaoExpress.

By end March 2005 Exel seems to be in trouble again - or is it?
Only lawyers can make that one out. Maybe.

The local KLM manager announces BonaireExel will get a face-lift and a new name by the end of August 2005. Never trust what an airline tells you; as if you didn't know. Till now, KLM denied all relations with Exel, but new director van Pallandt is from KLM. At any rate, the new name is Dutch Antilles Express; livery is left blank with a new tail logo.

As of late, on-time performance of what now is DAE has improved to well over 90%. Internet booking of electronic tickets should become available shortly. One unsurpassable hurdle may be the new booking system of Curaçao Hato airport.

In December 2005, DAE announced a new service to Valencia, Venezuela and six other new regional routes, as yet unspecified.
price too high
Almost immediately, complaints came in that tickets between Aruba and Curaçao cost twice what DAE charges for the longer distance to Valencia (with more competition).
Dutch Antilles Express

New Ball Game
The situation in September 2006 had more or less consolidated to the point where DAE had built up a 90% on time performance record and a 0.3% annulment record, with flights between Valencia, Curaçao, Bonaire, Aruba and St. Maarten. At that point, fresh upstart Insel-Air was licensed to start flights CUR-SXM together with SLM, after 16 months of operation by DEA on that line. DAE feels that this is so fast, it must 'surreptitiously' have been arranged in advance between government and InselAir. DAE charges that this is illegal use of cabotage rights, and after first announcing to close that line and then denying this, finally announces a 'reversible' decision to stop flights per September 7th. Permission for a similar construction was earlier refused to AA's American Eagle as well.
According to Sandmann, full owner of DAE, there are plans to start up another Antillean airline after the ALM-DCA debacle. Parties are Maduro-Curiel's Bank, Girobank, Banco di Caribe, RBTT, Ennia, Apna and Obna, with Central Bank director Tromp as instigator. While this consortium has never approached DAE,governor Goedgedrag and Valdemar Marcha did pay a visit to KLM headquarters in Holland for deliberations; but KLM prefers a regional company that includes DAE, while DAE wants a 25% share in the consortium.

Final Comment
Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf announces, to nobody's surprise, that the downfall of Exel was caused by mismanagement. New here, but not surprising either, is that KLM and Exel had an agreement on price structure, with Exel charging €100 less than KLM; and that Exel's Erik de Vlieger was 'offered' Martinair by KLM.

Latest DAE developments

From KLM to DCA, and on...
sad story of a missed chance

Curaçao Island

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