By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
While praising the Government for “a good first step” in trying to bring the Bahamas further into line with the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) security standards, a leading airport operator yesterday said it was effectively ‘putting the cart before the horse’.
Captain Randy Butler, Sky Bahamas’ chief executive, told Tribune Business that while the recently-tabled Civil Aviation (Amendment) Bill was a start in addressing the Bahamas’ aviation and airport security issues, it should have been preceded by reforms that created a Civil Aviation Authority and a nationwide airport certification programme.
By failing to transform the Civil Aviation Department into a self-financing Authority, Captain Butler questioned how effective implementation and enforcement of the Bill’s provisions would be.
This was because the Government was still owner and operator of most Bahamian airports, and the Civil Aviation Department’s status as part of government meant it had a potential ‘conflict’ in levying fines and penalties for non-complying airports.
The Sky Bahamas chief executive also questioned whether the Bill’s proposed sanctions, “a fine not exceeding $10,000”, would have the deterrent effect desired, and incentivise airport owners/operators to comply.
He added that the best method for ensuring compliance would be to take away an airport’s certification to operate. While the Bill speaks to this, Captain Butler questioned how it could be enforced when there was no formal airport certification programme in the Bahamas.
And he also queried whether there was a financial budget in place, particularly for Family Island airports, that would enable them to meet the Bill’s stipulations for screening of all passengers and items, plus other security requirements.
Noting that the Bill was several years “overdue” in responding to concerns raised by a previous ICAO audit of the Bahamas, Captain Butler said: “We should have been in compliance with Annex 17. It’s one of those things that’s a couple of years late.
“We had a universal audit, I believe it may have been in 2005-2006, and the Bahamas had some issues to address. I know there was a collective action report that went out, and there were some timelines set out to meet the challenges.”
He added: “This law is a step in the right direction, addressing some of these issues. This is a good start at having the appropriate law in place. I assume based on this law that the Civil Aviation director will have powers to come up with the regulations, guidelines and supporting documents.”
The Bill empowers the director to appoint civil aviation security inspectors, an establish a National Civil Aviation Security Programme.
A National Civil Aviation Security Committee will be created to oversee its implementation, and the Bill sets out security requirements for Bahamian airports and airline operators, plus penalties and sanctions for non-compliance.
This is all designed to bring the Bahamas into compliance with ICAO’s Annex 17, which deals with aviation and airport security.
However, spotting potential problems, Captain Butler told Tribune Business: “We come back to the old problem of government being owner and operator of the airports. Is it going to be possible for the Government to come into compliance with this?”
He questioned whether the Bahamas was in compliance with ICAO Annex 14, which requires a country to have an airport certification programme.
No such formal programme, Captain Butler said, currently exists in the Bahamas. While airports may be given an ‘approval letter’ by the authorities, he suggested this did not meet Annex 14.
“If you don’t have standards requiring them [airports] to be certified and licensed, with the appropriate laws in place, you have nothing to enforce,” Captain Butler told Tribune Business, suggesting the proposed fines would be ineffectual.
“You’d have thought they’d try to bring about a Civil Aviation Authority to empower them, and have a separation of powers between operator and regulator to help this thing work,” he added.
“Currently, the biggest violator of this will be the Government and Civil Aviation themselves.”
With a Civil Aviation Authority ‘step one’, Captain Butler said an airport certification and inspection programme should follow, with the current Amendment the third phase in the process - not the first.
He added: “The big thing is: I believe this Bill is good. This is the demonstration of some political will. I commend the Minister [Glenys Hanna-Martin] on a bold step to get this going.
“But the things that are going to make this effective are not in place.”
The Sky Bahamas’ chief executive said complying with ICAO’s Annex 17 was “very important, because other countries are looking at us”.
He added that the Bahamas’ level of compliance with Annexes 17 and 14 determined what measures the likes of the US and Canada put in place for flights originating here that entered their airspace, and “their assets coming here”.