By AOPA ePublishing staff
Pilots who want to enjoy the beautiful islands of the Bahamas by general aviation should take extra care when planning their trips and understand that the rules and conditions are different than those at home.
“The Bahamas simply don’t have the same communications capabilities we are used to when flying in the United States, and pilots need to be aware of that before they launch,” explained Woody Cahall, AOPA vice president of government affairs for pilot information, who recently flew to eight airports in the Bahamas to get a firsthand look at conditions there.
“Cell phones often don’t work, Internet service is spotty, and there may or may not be a working ‘blue’ telephone at any given airport of entry, so you may need to go to more than one airport to be able to contact U.S. Customs officials before returning to the United States.”
Roger Moore, an AOPA member who has a vacation cottage in the Bahamas and has made more than 50 flights to the islands, says that reaching U.S. Customs can be a little frustrating because the phones are not well maintained. He adds that filing flight plans in the Bahamas for a return to the United States can also be a minor problem.
“When I file in the Bahamas, my plan never makes it to Miami before I need to open it with them, so I always end up re-filing in the air,” Moore explained.
Of greater concern are the challenges with en route communications. Many of the remote communications outlets (RCOs) that serve the Bahamas have been damaged by hurricanes, and repairs have been slow in coming, leaving small aircraft without radio contact below the flight levels—a cause for special concern when flying over water between islands. For more than a year, AOPA has urged the Bahamian government to make RCO repairs a priority, but most of the RCOs still do not work.
That’s one reason pilots should be sure their safety equipment is up to scratch before embarking on the trip. Moore says he wears a life jacket when he’s flying at low altitude because in an emergency situation he might not have time to put one on. He also carries a handheld ELT in addition to the one in the aircraft.
Pilots also need to be aware of customs requirements in the Bahamas. “After you have landed at an airport of entry and cleared customs, you will receive an entry cruising permit,” Cahall explained. “If you later visit another airport of entry within the Bahamas, you need to get that permit stamped. But if you go to an airport with no customs facilities, you don’t need to worry about getting a stamp.”
That policy has proven confusing for many visiting pilots, and AOPA has asked the Bahamian government to review its policy and consider standardizing the requirements. In fact, pilots report many inconsistencies in the way paperwork is handled.
Moore says that each official may do things a little differently, sometimes wanting him to fill out a different form or provide additional copies.
“It’s really no big deal. Just fill out the form and go with the flow,” Moore recommends. In fact, he says, that’s the best policy when dealing with most of the issues he has encountered on his trips. “There’s no reason to get frustrated with it.”
AOPA’s pilots agree.
“Knowing what to expect and being flexible can really simplify your trip and leave you free to enjoy the wonderful people, food, and natural beauty of the islands,” Cahall said.
For more information about traveling to the Bahamas by GA, visit the Pilot Information Center online.
AOPA wishes to thank Rick Gardner of Caribbean Sky Tours for organizing and guiding our staff’s visit. Gardner, who is from the Bahamas, assured a successful trip with his in-depth understanding of the region.
May 7, 2008