Pilotage:

An automatic good day

February 1, 2010

I had just started fueling the first of four mostly empty 37-gallon bladder tanks when a perky little Piper Tri-Pacer taxied over and took up a next-in-line position at the Aztec’s four o’clock. A youngish pilot hopped out and sauntered over. I expected him to be a tad on the sour side given the 10-minute wait, but he seemed pleasant enough. I soon understood the reason for his relaxed smile. He and his wife were headed to one of my favorite places in the world: the Bahamas.

They were from Arkansas, he said, and were making their first trip to the islands. They had no itinerary other than to island hop for two weeks. It took 90 gallons for me to give him my recommendations, tips, and advice. He seemed most interested in the fact that his cell phone should work on some islands (and he could use it to call U.S. Customs and Border Protection—CBP—when they were headed back), but said that he would tell his wife otherwise.

I wished him good luck on their adventure, which it surely would be. Two weeks on an archipelago of 700 islands. Two weeks of Tri-Pacering around to 49 island airports. Two weeks with nothing on the to-do list but lollygagging. How cool is that?

Very cool. I know, because I was in the Bahamas just the day before I met the Arkansas adventurer. My trip was a far cry from their sojourn—a few hours instead of two weeks; a specific business mission to accomplish instead of creative loafing; and I was flying a piston twin instead of William Piper’s 1950s version of a light sport aircraft. Regardless, I was in the Bahamas for a day, which is way better than being in the office.

We departed Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport south of Miami and headed due east toward our first over-water fix, Rajay intersection. Early morning clouds obscured most of the Miami-area coastline, but I could sense the transition from land to water. A brilliant sunrise was debuting, the air was silken, and instead of the usual straitlaced pilot attire, I was properly clothed—shorts and sneakers.

We were headed to MYNN, Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau. I much prefer the remote Out Islands, but the business was in Nassau. The Bahamian customs and immigration agents at Executive Flight Support were in a cheerful mood, and we cleared quickly and easily.

While waiting for our ride I borrowed the FBO’s computer to try and keep the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) happy by filing an eAPIS (Electronic Advance Passenger Information System) arrival report for the flight back to Tamiami later that day. This was my first trip out of the country since the APIS reporting requirement took effect last May, and thus my first attempt at using the ponderous eAPIS system.

The half-day I had spent creating and filing the departure report for the flight to Nassau did not result in an F–16 intercept prior to us reaching Rajay, so I figured it worked out OK. (Note to DHS: Your e-mail response to my departure manifest was nothing if not laughable. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of an eAPIS experience, here’s some of the DHS boilerplate you’ll get when filing: “CBP is confirming receipt of your submission. This e-mail does not confirm that your manifest is valid, accurate, and/or complete. It is only a receipt. You may be subject to penalties for failure to comply with regulatory requirements…This e-mail was sent from a notification-only address that cannot accept incoming e-mail. Please do not reply to this message.” Thanks for the service, guys.)

I elected not to file a return (arrival) eAPIS manifest at the same time I sent the departure notification because I wasn’t 100-percent sure we would be clearing out of Nassau to return to the states. Given the tone of that DHS e-mail, I thought it potentially unhealthy to say I’d be homeward bound from Nassau and then actually clear out of San Andros on Andros Island.

Which is just what we did. The business in Nassau wrapped up earlier than expected, so we decided to pop down to Staniel Cay in the Exumas. One of my passengers wanted to check on a marina and home under construction on Staniel by his business partner. Also, we were in need of a Bahamian out-island meal.

Lunch was great—I think. I had to wolf down my fried conch bits and fried grouper fingers while frantically typing away on the Staniel Yacht Club’s $10-per-day public computer to file my eAPIS return manifest. Trouble-free WiFi is a contradiction in terms in the islands, but this time I was lucky. Despite a momentary power outage, the computer’s battery backup kept me connected and I was able to access the eAPIS site and assure our DHS protectors that I was not bringing known terrorists into the country.

I filed my manifest, we flew to San Andros to clear outbound, and an hour and eight minutes after departing MYAN we touched down at Tamiami to clear U.S. Customs inbound and drop off a passenger. When I told the CBP agent I was an eAPIS first-timer, he complimented me for getting it right.

It was just one day in the islands, but that automatically made it a good day. ( See “Bound for the Bahamas,” December 2009 AOPA Pilot.) Their first eAPIS experience notwithstanding, after two weeks of chillin’ that Tri-Pacer couple will putter home to Arkansas knowing they definitely got it right.

Mark Twombly lives 165 Great Circle miles from the nearest Bahamian island. E-mail the author at ( mrtwombly@gmail.com).