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Bahamas '75% Through' With Region's Worst Aviation Regime

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas is 75 per cent complete on an ‘action plan’ designed to overhaul what a leading international authority has branded the worst aviation industry safety regime in the entire Americas region.

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A Bahamasair plane lands against a backdrop of heavy clouds. (Stock)

Captain Patrick Rolle, director of the Civil Aviation Department (CAD), told Tribune Business that the organisation would not be satisfied until it had implemented 45-50 per cent of what the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) was seeking in terms of safety regulations.

He was speaking after Tribune Business obtained an ICAO ‘Action Plan for the Bahamas”, dated April 2012, which effectively said this nation had done the least - in terms of implementing an aviation safety regime - in the entire Americas region.

The document raises major questions for the former Ingraham administration, as it notes that for two years leading up to 2011, little was done to act on recommendations made by ICAO during a February 2009 audit.

It will also raise questions, and possibly shed some light, on issues that may have contributed to the recent fatal aviation accident that occurred on Mayaguana.

And, finally, the ICAO report will raise new doubt as to whether the Bahamas will pass the upcoming Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) audit of its civil aviation safety regime, which is now scheduled for May 13, 2013.

Any negative findings, especially a downgrade from Category One to Category Two status with the FAA, would negatively impact business for Bahamasair and Bahamian-owned private airlines, plus potentially damage the tourism industry.

“The audit revealed that the overall lack of effective implementation (LEI) of a safety oversight system was 62 per cent,” the ICAO action plan said. “Therefore, the Bahamas is the state with the highest LEI in the Americas.

“High lack of effective implementations (LEIs) were reported in the areas of aerodromes and ground aids (AGA) at 98 per cent, air navigation services (ANS) at 77 per cent, and Organisation (ORG) at 57 per cent.”

The ICAO action plan then revealed that the organisation, considered the world’s leading aviation regulatory body, conducted a June 2011 follow-up to the initial 2009 audit.

That inspection focused on the Bahamas’ civil aviation legislation, personnel licensing, aircraft operations and aircraft airworthiness.

ICAO said the June 2011 audit “revealed little progress, with the lack of effective implementation improving marginally to 56 per cent”.

Both audits happened under the former Ingraham administration, as opposed to the current government, and the ICAO document added: “The current status of implementation of the state’s corrective action plan (CAP) by the Bahamas indicates that progress with implementation of the CAP in some areas has been achieved.

“However, the state continues to face challenges in the areas of organisation, based on the [June 2011] results, and aerodromes and ground aids and air navigation services, based on the lack of CAP implementation progress as reported by the Bahamas in these areas.”

The ICAO report said the “most critical elements of a safety oversight system” that the Bahamas had done the least to implement, included Technical Personnel Qualifications and Training, with a 78 per cent LEO rating.

Civil Aviation System and Safety Oversight Functions, had a 65 per cent LEI score, according to ICAO, and Surveillance Obligations with a 64 per cent ranking.

When contacted by Tribune Business yesterday, Captain Rolle conceded that at the time the ICAO report was written, its assessment of the Bahamas’ aviation safety regime was “probably” correct.

However, he disputed that this nation had the worst regulatory regime in the Americas, adding: “I’m not sure they quite said it like that.”

Captain Rolle, though, said that since ICAO issued the report the Bahamas had been working its way through a “comprehensive action plan”, addressing all the matters raised.

A new radar system had been installed, he added, while new airport regulations had been completed, and the necessary technical personnel hired and undergoing training. The updating of air safety regulations was ongoing, and all this is set to be considered by ICAO when it returns to the Bahamas in November 2013 to do another audit.

“I would say we’re three-quarters of the way through that plan,” Captain Rolle told Tribune Business. “There’s a very aggressive move to ensure those numbers are coming down, and we are in compliance.

“That will be continued until those numbers are down below the 50-55 per cent line. All the regulations we need are drafted already, and we should be pretty much on the way for implementing them.

“It’s a lot done, and still a lot to do going forward with it, and the Government, I believe, has the political will to see it through. We have no choice as a tourist industry, but also to keep the sky safe.”

Pointing out that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) was working with the Government on a $50 million Air Transport Reform programme, Captain Rolle said one change involved the separation of Civil Aviation’s regulatory and service provider functions.

“We were pretty much inspecting ourselves and they wanted that to change so that conflict of interest would be removed,” said Captain Rolle, revealing that operations at all Bahamas-based airports will be transferred from Civil Aviation to the Airport Authority.

“That’s the plan,” he added. “It will definitely start this year, and so they will be taking over all the fire stations in the Family Islands, the security services in the Family Islands.”

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