THE House of Assembly passed a compendium of aviation bills yesterday, one of which seeks to set up the necessary infrastructure so that the country can monetise its airspace.
Leading debate on the Bahamas Air Navigation Services Authority Bill, 2021; the Civil Aviation Bill, 2021; and the Civil Aviation Authority Bahamas Bill, 2021 yesterday, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar spoke of the importance of the legislation.
“The Civil Authority cannot have embedded within itself an entity which it is expected to regulate,” he said. “To overcome this conflict, the Bahamas Air Navigation Services division, by the introduction and passage of this BANSA Bill will be decoupled from the Civil Aviation Authority and become its own authority. This new independent air navigation service authority will be empowered to provide and charge for air navigation service fees, for aircrafts to charge into and out of and over the territory of The Bahamas.
“Introduction of the Air Navigation Service Authority Bill will establish the responsibilities, powers and functions of the new authority and will demonstrate to both domestic and international stakeholders the government’s commitment to establishing a futuristic strategy for the provision and charging of air navigation services within The Bahamas’ sovereign air space and the creation of a self-sustaining aviation environment.
“(The bill) provides The Bahamas with more economic control over its sovereign air space and expands its aircraft registry capability. Section 5 allows new authority to enter arrangements or partnerships with respect to air navigation services. Section 30 gives new authority with approval of minister power to develop, recommend and propose fees and service charges for the provision of air navigation services in The Bahamas such as overflight fees for aircraft that transit Bahamian administered airspace but neither land in nor depart from The Bahamas, air navigation fees for services rendered within airspace of The Bahamas, including air traffic management, communications, navigation, radar surveillance, flight information service, procedural control and training.
“The passage of this bill seeks to set up the infrastructure so that we can begin to monetise one of our greatest natural resources, the airspace of The Bahamas. We don’t have to dig, we don’t have to drill, we don’t have to mine, we don’t have to extract, we don’t have to dredge anything, but start making money from our airspace. We just have to figure out how to bill and how to collect a fee every time a plane flies into or out of or through our airspace,” he said.
Discussions surrounding the management of Bahamian sovereign airspace have been ongoing for the last 25 years.
The Tribune has repeatedly drawn attention to the issue alerting our readers to the fact that millions of dollars of aviation fees have slipped through the country’s fingers.
When we first raised the issue under the former PLP government our arguments were ignored and it took some time for the Minnis administration to concede The Tribune was making a strong argument which should be picked up and acted upon.
Since 1952, some 75 percent of the air traffic through Bahamian airspace has been managed by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), with Cuba handling the other 25 percent.
Air traffic within 60 nautical miles of Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA), and up to an altitude of 12,000 feet, has been managed by Bahamian air traffic controllers, but the FAA has been the one collecting the overflight fees involving Bahamian air space.
As a result, Bahamian-owned aircraft and commercial flights have been confronted with the ridiculous situation of having to pay the US to fly in their own country’s air space - an anomaly that cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. The Christie administration rectified this during its final months in office through an agreement with the FAA.
The US Office of Inspector General stated in its December 2017 audit that the FAA has billed an astonishing $800m in over-flight fees between 2006-2016. It billed an estimated $106m in 2017, with an estimated $126m to be billed in 2019. A significant portion of this revenue will involve flights that have used Bahamian airspace, giving an insight into the potential earnings for this nation.