AOPA continues to press Bahamas officials for an answer after meeting with the ministries of finance, tourism, and transportation regarding a new customs fee that caught pilots, hoteliers, and even the country’s aviation department off guard.
Stakeholders learned late June 30 that a new fee was set to go into effect July 1. Amidst confusion over the fee’s purpose, amount, and implementation, AOPA worked closely with the Bahamas to determine the reason for the fee and how it was to be applied, and advocated for suspending the fee and reevaluating. When it seemed continued phone and email conversations wouldn’t produce a timely resolution, Vice President of AOPA’s Pilot Information Center traveled to the island nation July 17 for a face-to-face meeting with ministry officials. AOPA requested a decision on the fee by July 23; by late July 24 there was still no answer, though officials said they were actively in discussions and hoped to have an answer that day.
The new $50 fee is to be paid to customs at an aircraft’s first customs stop on inbound flights, but has been inconsistently assessed: Some pilots reported being charged the fees, while others have proceeded as normal. A form pilots are expected to fill out for the fee does not yet exist.
The Bahamas islands, which have 58 airports and more than 20 aviation ports of entry, are popular international destinations for U.S. pilots. Cahall expressed concern in the meeting over the way pilots were notified about the fee, and pointed out that the mechanism to collect it is not understood, that there is no assurance that money will be invested back into aviation infrastructure, and that pilots feel targeted by the fee. (It doesn’t apply to the marine industry, for instance.)
AOPA was the sole representative of general aviation at the meeting, which also included principals in the aviation department and representatives from an airline, businesses, the Out Island Tourism Committee, and gateway FBOs. The association urged the Bahamas to set aside the fee temporarily to allow for stakeholder input, vet the ramifications of a potential fee, and remedy implementation issues, and Bahamas officials acknowledged the issue needed additional research.