Aviation 'cutting edge' targeted for early 2021

TOURISM and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

TOURISM and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

* Minister aims to bring three-Bill package to House

* Urgency growing ahead of next year's ICAO audit

* Major upgrade needed for aircraft registry ambition


Tribune Business Editor


A Cabinet minister is aiming to bring a reform package that will keep The Bahamas on aviation's "cutting edge", and improve its global regulatory standing, to Parliament in the 2021 first quarter.

Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, yesterday told Tribune Business the three-strong group of Bills - one of which will repeal the present Civil Aviation Act 2016 - were critical to The Bahamas' ambitions of launching a true aircraft registry.

Asserting that they will replace a "quite cumbersome" regulatory regime that has made it difficult to keep up with frequent regulatory changes made by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the global industry overseer, Mr D'Aguilar said it was becoming increasingly urgent that the trio of Bills be enacted into law.

This is because The Bahamas' civil aviation safety and oversight regime is set to undergo another ICAO evaluation in November 2021, and the assessors will want enough time to have passed between the Bills' enactment and their visit to determine whether their provisions have been "implemented effectively".

The Bahamas is desperate to improve upon the results of its last ICAO audit, where it was found to have only properly implemented 32 percent of the “critical elements of a safety oversight system” for the aviation industry in this country, and Mr D'Aguilar acknowledged that a much better showing was vital to the country realising its aircraft registry aspirations.

Besides the upgraded Civil Aviation Bill, the other two pieces of legislation that will be brought to Parliament are The Bahamas Air Navigation Services (BANS) Authority Bill, which attempts to further separate regulator and operations by breaking out the air traffic controllers from the Civil Aviation Department and Authority, plus the Civil Aviation Authority Bill.

The latter, Mr D'Aguilar explained, will define the Civil Aviation Authority's organisational structure and set-up as the sector regulator, as well as "how it operates and codifying in law" the oversight functions it currently performs.

Confirming that drafting work on the Bills was "done", he added that they now needed to be presented to, and approved by, the Minnis Cabinet before making it on to the House of Assembly's legislative agenda. "It's close. Hopefully we will get it on the agenda in the first quarter of next year," Mr D'Aguilar said.

Explaining the BANS Bill's merits, he added that "ICAO rules suggest strongly" that the roles of aviation regulator not be mixed with operational functions such as air traffic control given the potential for conflicts of interest. Thus the air traffic controllers will be established as a separate entity.

As for the Civil Aviation Act's repeal and replacement by the new version, Mr D'Aguilar said the intention was to enable The Bahamas to keep pace with ICAO's changes to international rules by enabling the country to implement these reforms via regulations as opposed to having to go back to Parliament every time to change the Act.

"ICAO has made some amendments and upgrades that are too cumbersome to implement with the present Act," he told this newspaper. "It's just neater to repeal and replace the Act, which will allow for the Civil Aviation Authority to very easily make amendments as made by ICAO.

"When ICAO publishes amendments and updates as it relates to civil aviation it's quite cumbersome to do so through the existing Act. This new Bill's framework provides the ability to make these changes through regulations so we keep on the cutting edge of changes that are made.

"It enables the Civil Aviation Authority to do what it needs to do to remain on the cutting edge. Right now, it's very, very cumbersome. There are lots of layers of approval, and we can never keep up with the changes," he added of the new Civil Aviation Bill. "It allows for some flexibility in amending and updating aviation regulations.

"The goal is to embrace all the changes and suggestions by ICAO since that Act was first conceived in 2015. The Civil Aviation Authority will be strictly the entity providing oversight of all areas of the aviation sector, and will be true to its purpose of aviation oversight and improving safety in the country."

Mr D'Aguilar said it was critical that the Bills be passed in early 2021 to allow for sufficient implementation time ahead of the ICAO audit later in the year, given that examiners will be looking to see whether The Bahamas has put the legislative reforms into practice.

This, in turn, is vital to improving The Bahamas' safety and compliance ranking, and unlocking its ambitions to develop and aircraft registry - something that could provide the Public Treasury with a valuable additional revenue stream post-COVID-19 as well as creating a value-added service for the high net worth individuals targeted by this nation.

"We are supposed to be having an audit by ICAO in November 2021," Mr D'Aguilar told Tribune Business. "It's important that we can demonstrate 'effective implementation', as this is what ICAO auditors want to see when they come in.

"This all came about when we looked at implementing an aircraft registry. Back in early or late 2017 we had an audit done, and didn't score very well. It's very hard to launch an aircraft registry if you have an ICAO audit score in the mid to low 30s."

The last ICAO report revealed that The Bahamas had only properly implemented 32 percent of the “critical elements of a safety oversight system” for the aviation industry, with deficiencies found in all eight key areas.

The report, which effectively “downgraded” The Bahamas from 56.98 percent compliance pre-audit, found it had implemented just 2.5 percent of its aviation industry “surveillance”, and 15.97 percent of its “licensing, certification and authorisation”, obligations.

Similar low scores were achieved on the “resolution of safety issues”, where The Bahamas was found by ICAO’s team to be just 11.76 percent compliant, and on “qualified technical personnel”, where it gained a 36 percent ranking.

It fared better on the quality of its aviation legislation and “state systems and functions”, which both scored in the 50 percent range, and achieved its highest compliance rating of 61.06 percent for “specific operating regulations”.

Captain Charles Beneby, the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority’s former director-general, told Tribune Business at the time that the last ICAO audit had caught the regulator when it was “transitioning” from a government entity to a standalone supervisory authority.

As a result, he argued that the BCAA “didn’t have sufficient time” to show ICAO that The Bahamas had implemented more of the necessary safety standards than allowed for by the report.

Captain Beneby also said it was aiming to achieve a 65 percent “effective implementation” score at the next audit - now scheduled for November 2021 - effectively ‘doubling’ the present 31.98 percent safety oversight compliance rating.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment