Aviation ‘golden goose on menu’

The Lynden Pindling International Airport. (File photo)

The Lynden Pindling International Airport. (File photo)

• Fears private planes ‘singled out for money grab’

• Aviation executive says NAD benchmarking flawed

• $28 ‘may not seem much’ but leaves Bahamas costly


Tribune Business Editor


A prominent aviation executive is voicing fears that The Bahamas is placing the private plane “goose that has been laying the golden eggs on the menu” over the proposed fee rise at its main gateway.

Rick Gardner, director of CST Flight Services, which provides flight co-ordination and trip support services to the private aviation industry throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, expressed concern that the sector has “been singled out for a money grab” by the Nassau Airport Development Company’s (NAD) plan to levy a $28 fee on all its arriving international passengers.

A member of The Bahamas Civil Aviation Council as well as a Bahamas Flying Ambassador, Mr Gardner said implementation of the NAD proposal could “tempt” private operators of Family Island airports - including the seven currently involved in government efforts to outsource their management and financing to the private sector - to follow suit by levying new and/or increased fees on private aviation.

His response to the NAD consultation, which has been seen by Tribune Business, warned that such moves will inevitably raise “the cost of flying to The Bahamas” and make this nation “a more expensive and less attractive destination” at precisely the time when private aviation has helped to lead the country’s post-COVID tourism rebound.

Mr Gardner, who said he and other flying ambassadors constantly promote The Bahamas to others as the premier private aviation destination, added that if the market perceived NAD’s proposed fees as unjustified “it will become increasingly difficult for many of us to continue to look our fellow pilots in the eye and make those lofty claims”.

Given that private aviation passengers are perceived as wealthier, and having more income than their commercial airline counterparts, some observers will likely dismiss these concerns in the belief that such persons can far more easily absorb such an increase without suffering any detrimental impact.

But Mr Gardner, in his feedback to the NAD consultation, while acknowledging that $28 “may not sound like much”, said the increase had to be considered against the fees and charges already levied on private aviation passengers as it would “put The Bahamas amongst the top of the list in this fee category”.

“While $28 may not sound like much, it is ‘per person’, and when added to the current $29 per person [departure] fee already charged in The Bahamas, the total per person fee makes the Bahamas one of the most expensive in the region. This in addition to all the other fees already charged,” he explained.

NAD, Lynden Pindling International Airport’s (LPIA) operator, had asserted in its consultation paper that private aviation generated 11 percent of its total revenue exclusive of passenger facilities charges. However, Mr Gardner argued it had neglected the rents and fees paid to NAD by the two fixed based operators (FBOs), Jet Aviation and Odyssey.

“General aviation operators already pay hundreds of dollars in fees to the FBOs, which includes $150 in Bahamas Customs processing fees. In addition, on top of those fees they also have to pay $29 per person tax on passengers and pilots,” he said.

“In 2013, The Bahamas’ government imposed landing fees as well as a Bahamas Customs processing fee, which is charged to all arriving private aircraft in addition to the $29 per person departure tax. Therefore, it is difficult to comprehend how the NAD could publish a chart that indicates that it only costs general aviation operators $25 to land at LPIA.”

The $28 per passenger charge on all private aviation arrivals would therefore almost double, or increase by 100 percent, the fees paid by such persons arriving at NAD. And Mr Gardner cited several grounds to back his argument that the benchmarking exercise employed by LPIA’s operator to justify the fee’s imposition was flawed.

While NAD had based its analysis on a ‘Piper Aztec Navajo PA31’ aircraft, Mr Gardner said that in reality it had combined two planes into one as a ‘Piper Aztec’ and a ‘Piper Navajo’ were distinctly different. Besides this, he added that many of the so-called “peer” airports and countries cited by NAD to justify its the proposed $28 per head charge were either inappropriate or irrelevant.

Brazil, Guyana and Bermuda were selected despite the fact that a Piper Navajo, which was the larger of the two aircraft, does not have the range to fly there non-stop. And the benchmarking with airports in New York, Texas and New Jersey, Mr Gardner argued, was incorrect because US regulations require planes returning to the US from The Bahamas to land at one of nine Florida airports to be inspected unless they obtain an exemption.

NAD has asserted that the proceeds from the $28 per private aviation passenger charge will help to ensure the sector pays its fair share in financing $30m of airside infrastructure improvements at LPIA, including paving surfaces and lighting.

However, Mr Gardner argued that private aviation does not use any of the LPIA infrastructure relied upon by private aviation. And, with a Piper Navajo’s maximum take-off weight of 7,000 pounds dwarfed by the 174,200 pounds of a Boeing B737-800, he added: “You do not need to be a scientist nor engineer to realise that a commercial airline aircraft weighing 25 times more, and landing at a 50 percent faster speed, than a private aircraft will cause disproportionally more wear and tear on runways and taxiways.

“If you consider that 40 percent of the landing traffic is caused by aircraft comparable to a Piper Navajo, and 60 percent by aircraft comparable to a Boeing B737-800, calculating the weights and percentages reveals that private aviation traffic represents only 2.6 percent of all the weight handled by the airport runways and taxiways in a year......

“Therefore, demanding that private aviation pay more for debt and maintenance costs related to runways, taxiways, parking ramps and terminal buildings that are either unnecessarily long, used exclusively by the commercial airlines, or are being worn down at a disproportionate rate by the commercial airlines is grossly unfair.”

Mr Gardner argued that implementation of the NAD fee was a potential “slippery slope” if it encouraged Family Island airport operators to do the same. “Thus the cost of flying to The Bahamas could rise at many airports, making the country a more expensive and less attractive destination,” he warned.

“Being an archipelago of islands, many of which have airstrips, the private aviation tourism market is ideal because it provides its own transportation; no airlines are required for travel. Besides the promotional money and efforts invested, The Bahamas government has been a leader and pioneer in the aviation industry at making it safe, practical and easy to fly a private aircraft to The Bahamas.

“These efforts have been going on for decades, and the perception in the general aviation industry has been that The Bahamas is a welcome paradise for private aviation tourism travel.” This, Mr Gardner argued, could be dented by the proposed LPIA fee and private aviation price sensitivities.

He cited examples, including Cancun and Costa Rica, where increased private aviation charges had wider ramifications for the tourism industry due to the closure of hotels and restaurants as that source of visitors dried up.

“If the perception in the general aviation industry changes, and The Bahamas is no longer considered the welcoming destination as it has been perceived, the first to suffer will be the Bahamian-owned hotels, restaurants, taxi drivers, fishing boats, dive operators etc frequented by private aviation tourism,” Mr Gardner warned.

“The Bahamas is not the only market for private aviation tourism. There are many other nearby international and Florida destinations eager to receive private aviation tourism dollars. Private aviation tourism has been a tourism cash cow for The Bahamas for many years. I fear that the goose that has been laying the golden eggs is now on the menu.”

Reiterating what he believes is “a serious potential risk” to The Bahamas’ private aviation tourism, he added: “When we stand before fellow pilots to promote The Bahamas as the premier private aviation tourism destination, we put our personal credibility on the line.

“If the actual experience for private aviation owner/operators at Bahamian airports is unwelcome and/or the fees being charged are unjustified, it will become increasingly difficult for many of us to continue to look our fellow pilots in the eye and make those lofty claims.”


concerned799 2 years ago

Methinks people in a Gulfstream 5 which costs 50-100 Million can afford $27 p/p!


truetruebahamian 2 years ago

A Gulfstream was not a part of the conversation. All costs regardless of how incremental makes for second thoughts and reconsideration of a destination or a reduction of flight frequency


The_Oracle 2 years ago

Of course that last goose found is going to get targeted, what else is left to pillage for Government waste/empty promises/shingles and nepotism? Until that stops the decline will continue.


DWW 2 years ago

So these guys own a $250,000 toy and complain about $28 fee? is this a rich kid problem?


jfreas 2 years ago

People of every income level make choices when it comes to spending their hard earned money. Many “rich” people are very sensitive to the value they get for their money. That’s part of how they got wealthy. It’s not a matter of “can they afford it” so much as “are they willing to pay more in fees rather than going somewhere else?” I know people who have chosen the Florida keys because it’s less expensive and they don’t feel like they’re being taken advantage of.

It’s your choice to make.


Ironworker 2 years ago

Well let me explain why its not a "rich kid problem". Its a Bahamian tourism problem. First most of the GA planes flying into the family islands are small 4 to 6 seaters. Currently the cost imposed by the Bahamas is Covid test for each passenger entering into the country $100 each passenger, the Health visa, at $40 per passenger, if you're vaccinated, A customs fee for the plane, $50. A covid test fee for those flying back to the at $50 per passenger. A $29 fee per passenger exit fee. The ramp fee at the airport per night between $12 to $100 per night. Avgas cost roughly $7 gallon figure roughly a 100 gallons of fuel.

Once you get to the country the duty of 45% and the VAT of 12.5% (soon to be 25%). Every tourist destination can price itself out of the market very much as the Turks and Caicos did.

I'm pretty sure just one more fee ($100 to $150) will cut General Aviation tourism by 15% to 25%. The average General Aviation visitor spends $10,000 per trip to visit the Bahamas. If you want to loose $10,000 for $100 then go for it.


LongIslandVisitor 2 years ago

To those that think everyone that takes a private plane into the Bahamas is traveling on Gulfstream or some other sort of "rich man's toy," they're not. For the most part they're average people like my wife and I that have been coming to the Bahamas on a regular basis once or twice a year, spending two-three weeks here, and now are semi-retired, which means we have to travel back to the US on a regular basis to meet the Bahamas' Immigration requirements. The planes mentioned in the article are all small passenger twin prop aircraft, designed to carry 4-6 or 6-8 people and are popular as small "charter" aircraft that fly regular routes between the US and the Bahamas. Although you may think that $28 per person is not a big deal, but for a family of 4, that's now an added $112 . And you folks that think this is not a big deal, IT IS COUPLED WITH THE NEW COVID TESTING REQUIREMENTS. Although fully vaccinated, as we were returning just after the new requirements, we had to get a rapid antigen test (RAT) In the US, if you want to get same day results, the test will cost you anywhere from $150-$250. And that's per person. Our flight back from Houston to Nassau on August 4 had only 21 passengers. And the main discussion was the ridiculous cost of testing. Keep adding on fees, and you want have a tourism industry. People will take their money elsewhere.


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