Like the rest of the world, the Bahamian aviation sector continues to reel from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D'Aguilar recently addressed the easing of restrictions on air travel to, from and within The Bahamas. A travel health visa, subject to certain exceptions (eg, children under 10 years of age and crew of commercial airlines), is still required by persons travelling into or within The Bahamas.
The overall effect of the COVID-19 crisis on the Bahamian aviation sector is unknown and may be for some time; however, there is no doubt that the short-term effects have been severe. Tourism and aviation in The Bahamas go hand in hand, with one affecting the other. The pandemic may provide an opportunity for the country's aviation industry, as there is increasing interest from private aircraft owners and those willing to spend a little more in order to avoid the constraints of scheduled commercial travel.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the global aviation industry on its head with operations slowly grinding to a complete halt. At present, no international or domestic flights are permitted to operate to, from or within The Bahamas with the exception of those authorised by The Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority to conduct cargo or emergency relief flights.
There was much progress in The Bahamas' aviation sector in 2019; in particular, the completion of the runway rehabilitation project at the country's gateway airport and the aircraft registry project. Unfortunately, there were also a few setbacks. This article provides an overview of the main issues that affected the aviation sector in The Bahamas over the past 12 months.
In recent years, there has been significant growth in air traffic to and from The Bahamas. As a result, the government has taken proactive steps to support this growth – notably, with upgrades to several of the country's busiest airports. For example, the Nassau Airport Development Company recently commenced a major rehabilitation project at the Lynden Pindling International Airport. This project will, among other things, include an asphalt upgrade to increase the runway's lifespan.
The Bahamas' flight information region airspace comprises tens of thousands of miles and is subject to significant overflight activity. Moreover, it is one of the most important airspaces and is worth millions in revenue. To further enhance the civil aviation sector, the government is seeking to create a self-funded and sustainable management programme in order to collect overflight fees, while paying the US Federal Aviation Administration a fee for the management of its airspace.
The Bahamian government continues to make progress towards enhancing its aircraft registry and ratifying the Cape Town Convention. For example, the Aviation Steering Committee (ASC) recently presented draft legislation to implement the Cape Town Convention to the Attorney General's Office. The ASC expects this draft legislation to be approved and presented to the Cabinet before the next government budget communication in Summer 2019.
For the first time, The Bahamas has embarked on an ambitious project to develop a national aviation policy to better coordinate and facilitate civil aviation activities to, from and within the country. Further, the ratification of the Cape Town Convention will better position The Bahamas as a key player in the global industry in terms of financing and leasing aircraft and will allow the country to compete in the aviation industry on a global level.
The Bahamas is ripe with opportunity and well positioned in what has become a new global industry within the civil aviation sector. The numerous remote islands in the country afford many possibilities regarding the operation and testing of drones as they become more sophisticated and start to be used for various operations. Drone operators, whether commercial or recreational, must be mindful of privacy, data collection and use and nuisance.
The Bahamian authorities recently embarked on an ambitious project to reform and enhance the country's civil aviation sector. These efforts will enhance the country's standing in the global arena, where aviation is experiencing considerable and dynamic growth. Such growth will benefit not only the country's civil aviation sector, but also its financial services and private sectors.