Summer is vacation time! If you are thinking of flying to the Islands this summer, you can find the information you need for flight planning and trip preparation on AOPA’s web site. Just click on the tabs across the top of the web page to see what’s needed for each phase of your trip.
I wanted to expand this article with information beyond what’s on our web page, so - looking for an insider’s view from someone who does a lot of flying in the Islands - I reached out to Rick Gardner and Pia Hilbert of Caribbean Sky Tours. Rick is AOPA’s representative in Mexico, Central America, and the Bahamas.
They responded with the bulleted lists below. Many of the flight procedures will be familiar to those of you who have flown to the Islands before, but they also include several tips that will be useful in your flight operations, both in the islands and crossing the ADIZ on your way to and from them. Also, the list of upcoming local events is great information for those planning a visit.
Procedures Outbound and in-country:
eAPIS must be filed and email received no later than 1 hour prior to departure. You cannot depart prior to that hour having transpired, even if you receive the email clearing you for the flight.
You must file a flight plan for departing the USA and activate it. File your flight plan with Miami Flight Service, do not bother filing with any other FSS. Direct numbers for Miami FSS are: (800) 432-4716 or (305) 233-2600.
Miami Center controls the airspace above 6,000 MSL over the Bahamas. If you request Flight Following, or if you are under IFR, you will have to fly at an altitude within Miami Center’s airspace.
Pick routes that keep you over land and shallow water. Not all water is alike, if you have access to marine charts, they can provide you with a view of deep versus shallow water. If all else fails, use Google Earth. You must enter the Bahamas through an International Airport of Entry (AOE).
Determine fuel availability in advance. There are not many fuel locations in the Bahamas and some have been known to run out of fuel. Don’t get trapped on an island without enough fuel to get to your destination. While there are far worse places to be trapped, it may cause a problem at work.
Remember, you must activate your flight plan. Departing VFR and then picking up flight following may work, but is not legal per Part 99 as you must activate the flight plan. We have been told by the military liaison at Miami Center that from time to time DHS makes an example of people that do this, including those that do not even bother to file at all. File, activate, squawk, talk, close.
Try to activate your flight plan on the ground prior to takeoff using the local RCO frequency. Get the appropriate frequency for contacting FSS at your intended departure airport from Miami FSS when you file. If unable to reach them via radio, call with your cell phone while on the ground. This is busy airspace, the ADIZ is close to shore and if you are getting flight following there is a lot of communications traffic, frequency changes etc. Activating the flight plan while on the ground is just one less thing to do in the air.
Many times, FSS will not give you a discrete transponder code when departing the USA, the codes are typically issued for return flights towards the USA. However, an aircraft departing the USA squawking 1200 that begins to loiter or maneuver within the ADIZ may trigger an interception or at least a visit from a DHS Citation or Blackhawk to determine their intentions.
Watch out for traffic that parallels the coastline at low altitude, especially in Miami/Fort Lauderdale area, trying to scoot under the Class B and C airspace.
We did a chart of RCO’s in the Bahamas for AOPA.
CTAF in the Bahamas is 122.8. Nassau, Freeport and Exuma International have discreet frequencies.
Get clearance into Nassau and Freeport TCAs.
Note the minimum altitudes over Freeport and Nassau, these are on the WAC charts. For the Bahamas, use FAA WAC Charts CH25, CJ26 and CJ27 depending on where you are going.
Close your flight plans with Miami FSS. This can be done in the air using 126.9 over/near Grand Bahama Island (Freeport), 118.4 over/near New Providence Island (Nassau), 122.1/116.7 off of the Bimini VOR. You can also call Miami FSS using the “Blue Phones” located at all Bahamas international airports or by using your cell phone or local telephone. As a backup, you can use the frequencies for Nassau Radio listed on the RCO chart.
To enter the Bahamas you must present 3 (three) copies of either a C7A or C7, one stamped copy of this form will be returned to you. While in the Bahamas, you MUST get your C7A (or C7 depending on which you used) stamped wherever Bahamas Customs is present on arrival and departure. For example, if you fly from KOPF to MYAM you will receive a stamped C7A from Bahamas Customs at MYAM, this is your cruising permit for the aircraft. When you fly from MYAM to MYEH you must get it stamped by Customs again in MYAM prior to departure and then at MYEH on arrival. If you fly from MYEH to MYES, you will get it stamped on departure, but since there is no customs at MYES, you do not need to worry about any stamps at MYES.
Procedures Inbound to the USA:
You must depart the Bahamas through an International Airport of Entry (AOE). You will surrender your C7A and submit a new C7 for departure. You will also pay your Bahamas Departure Tax.
File, activate and close your flight plans from the Bahamas back to the USA directly with Miami FSS. Occasionally, we receive complaints about information provided to Nassau Flight Service not getting to Miami. Since Miami is the one issuing squawk codes, you want to be sure that they have your correct information on a timely basis.
File return eAPIS and get email authorization at least one hour prior to departing a foreign airport. You cannot depart prior to that hour having transpired, even if you receive the email clearing you for the flight.
Call CBP! Even if you file an eAPIS and you are going to be on time, you must still call CBP at the arrival airport to advise and receive approval for landing. Obtain the CBP officer’s name, badge number or initials as a record of the call.
Always, always, always get a briefing from Miami FSS before you return to the USA. This is true when returning from any foreign country. A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) may pop up unexpectedly and briefers in foreign countries may not look for, or receive, FDC NOTAM’s which include TFRs.
Activate your flight plan before crossing the ADIZ and obtain a unique transponder squawk code. Do not cross the ADIZ without it. Use the frequencies mentioned above.
If you call Miami FSS within three hours of departure, they will give you your squawk code. This does not relieve you of your responsibility to activate your flight plan. File, activate, squawk, talk, close.
Flight Following Caveats:
If you call Miami FSS to activate your flight plan and get your squawk code and then pass through the Nassau TCA, Nassau Approach will give you their squawk code. Do not use Nassau Approach’s code for the ADIZ. Once you are out of the Nassau TCA, you need to go back to the Miami FSS code.
Sometimes pilots may request flight following inbound to the USA and receive a Miami Center squawk code. If for any reason Miami Center cancels your flight following while you are within the ADIZ, you must go back to the FSS squawk code. Do not squawk 1200.
Remember, while in the ADIZ, you should be squawking either a Miami Center code or a FSS squawk code and talking to ATC. Otherwise, you will not be identified and could become the main event in your very own little military air show.
Be sure to comply with CBP instructions at the airport of arrival in the USA. Unless there are posted instructions to the contrary, you are required to remain inside the aircraft until authorized to disembark by a CBP officer.
Don’t forget to close your VFR flight plan with Miami FSS once on the ground in the USA.
There are many places to see and things to do. There are three general groups of destinations:
Intense tourism: Nassau and Freeport
Moderate tourism: Abaco Island, which includes Marsh Harbour, Treasure Cay, Elbow Cay (Hope Town) Green Turtle Cay; North Eleuthera and Harbour Island.
Off the beaten path; everywhere else
There are many great destinations for pilots in the Bahamas. Which are “best” is a matter of personal opinion. Bahamas has the world’s deepest blue hole, Dean’s Blue Hole, on Long Island. There have been articles on this spot including a CBS 60 Minutes News article on it. The Deadman’s Cay airport is convenient, as is the Stella Maris Airport.
Some upcoming events:
July 10 is Bahamas Independence Day and the Bahamas celebrates 40 years of independence. There will be many celebrations throughout the Bahamas.
Regatta Time in Abaco July 03-11, 2013
Cat Island Regatta August 01-05, 2013
North Eleuthera Regatta, October 09-13, 2013
So, if you’ve decided to “come to the Islands,” there’s much to look forward to! AOPA has heard enthusiastic reviews from many members about the outstanding hospitality and memorable experience they had at Fernandez Bay Village on Cat Island, as well as other resorts in the Bahamas. Need charts? You can purchase them from Caribbean Sky Tours – visit their web site to see their other services and resources. And, as always, if you have questions, give AOPA a call, 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672) Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time. Have a wonderful time!