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Aviation relief as ‘really ugly’ outcome averted

• Customs says sorry for private pilot anxiety

• Solution ‘can’t kill goose laying golden egg’

• ‘Complexity burden’ impact was ‘really bad’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Bahamas Customs has apologised for its now-aborted efforts to introduce a new border control system for private aviation that could have produced “a really ugly” outcome if implemented.

Ralph Munroe, acting Customs comptroller, in a May 31, 2022, e-mail to a senior Ministry of Tourism employee said the agency “regrets” the uncertainty and confusion caused for a lucrative visitor market over plans to make them enter/exit The Bahamas via its Click2Clear online portal.

The e-mail, sent to Greg Rolle, the tourism official responsible for the private pilot segment, said: “Further to our telephone conversation (Rolle /Munroe) regarding the matter at captioned, this is to confirm that the June 1, 2022, scheduled launch date has been postponed pending further discussion by Customs, government officials and programmers to address reasonable concerns expressed by stakeholders.

“Following our discussions, if or when there is a new date set for a launch of the module, our most valued stakeholders will be provided with adequate and sufficient notice to ensure there is a smooth transition.

“The Customs Department regrets and most sincerely apologises for any inconvenience caused by this most unfortunate turn of events, and reassures our partners and stakeholders of our commitment to dialogue and co-operation with them in charting the way forward to improve the experience of flying into and throughout our beautiful country.”

It appears this e-mail was forwarded by Mr Rolle to the private aviation industry to alert them to Customs’ last-minute u-turn, as its contents were referenced by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the world’s largest aviation association, in informing its hundreds of thousands of members that The Bahamas had dropped the Click2Clear clearance plan.

The private aviation industry yesterday voiced relief that Customs had changed course at the 11th hour. 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, summed it up in telling Tribune Business: “All’s well that ends well” - at least for now.

With Customs’ move easing the fear and anxiety that had gripped private pilots, Mr Gardner said it was critical that all stakeholders “sit at the table” with Customs and the Government to see how they can best help them achieve their goals “without killing the goose that lays the golden egg”.

Mr Gardner, a Bahamian who is a member of The Bahamas Civil Aviation Council as well as a Bahamas Flying Ambassador, added that it would have been “ugly all the way around” had Customs forges ahead with its initial implementation due to the frustration that would have resulted from pilots spending two to three hours online trying to complete paperwork required for entry into The Bahamas.

Explaining that the issue was an increased “complexity burden”, and not financial, he suggested that the Government “take a step back and look at a strategy” to grow The Bahamas’ private aviation business given that it brought high-spending visitors to the country and spread them around the islands rather than just confining them to Nassau’s mega resorts.

“I think this is great. I’m so happy,” Mr Gardner told this newspaper of Customs’ pull back. “I’ve been using the system, and pointing out all the issues. What be great would be to sit at the table and figure out what the Government needs, and how do we achieve that without killing the goose that lays the golden egg. That would be the quickest and best next step.

“We all need to come to the table in a positive way and work with the Government so they achieve what they want to achieve. The stakeholders can be a part of that, and we can communicate that to the industry, say ‘here’s the start date’ and help put together and distribute videos on how the system works.”

Mr Gardner said he had participated in something similar when the US introduced eAPIS, its own electronic border control and entry/exit system, which also impacted the aviation sector. “It’s unfortunate we got to where we are, but to everyone’s credit we got there,” he added of the now-eased frustration with Bahamas Customs and Click2Clear.

“I’m so glad that the Government of The Bahamas came out with the correction. Not all governments would. Some people dig in their heels, do not back down and pay the price for it. They do not have the foresight and vision to say let’s take a step back here and talk, and find a better way to do it. Kudos to them for doing that, and kudos to AOPA for taking the lead. I’m passionate about The Bahamas, and this is good for it.”

Mr Gardner acknowledged that much now “depends on where we go from here”, and how long Customs is prepared to delay Click2Clear’s implementation - whether for a month, year or indefinitely. The move comes after the Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) altered its own, separate plan to levy a $28 per passenger charge on international private aviation arrivals in favour of an aircraft weight-based levy.

“We’re not trying to be difficult for the sake of being difficult,” Mr Gardner added. “I know that market. I think the Government needs to take a step back and look a strategy. These people have money every time they step off the plane. They don’t have a boat, they don’t have a galley. These people come looking for a place to stay.

“They have the money to do it. They’re not like cruise passengers or airline passengers. They can pump money into the country, and don’t need to be transported by commercial airlines to do it. They can fly to Deadman’s Cay, Long Island, and do it there.”

Revealing how he had been in contact with a home and boat owner in Pitts Town, Crooked Island, who had voiced frustration at having to spend three hours filling out Click2Clear’s entry requirements, Mr Gardner described Customs’ decision to delay as “huge” for the sector, tourism and the wider Bahamian economy.

“This was getting real ugly,” he told this newspaper of the fall-out had Customs proceeded. “This was the single ugliest thing I’ve seen in 18 years that I’ve been doing this. This was the ugliest thing I’ve seen. I deal with Mexican air space, and this thing was not there, but it was ugly all the way around. It was ugly, but the good news is we’ll never know how bad it could have been, but I have to tell you I think it would have been really bad.”

Mr Gardner said Click2Clear would have imposed a “complexity burden” that was sufficient to drive private pilots to other destinations. He suggested that the system needed to have an interface similar to eAPIS where, once flight plans were filed, the details were automatically updated electronically to Customs’ system.

His call for a specific aviation module, where fees and forms could be paid and filled out quickly and efficiently, was backed by Jim Parker of Caribbean Flying Adventures. In a letter to Mark Baker, AOPA’s president, he wrote: “Please do not take your eyes off the ball.

“The promised makeover of the app could still be a big problem unless is it dramatically simplified. The only ‘maybe’ concession that came out of the two hour meeting with the ‘Ambassadors’ was to drop the passport uploads. No mention, however, of dropping the laborious requirement to enter all the passport details for everyone on board or of simplifying the drop down menus, etc.

“A follow-up letter from AOPA with specific suggestions could be instrumental in arriving at an acceptable outcome. Fillable PDF forms are readily available. What will work for Customs and AOPA members is a general aviation app that is nothing more than two fillable forms – C7A and general declarations – plus an online payment app for the $50 arrival fee and the $29 per person departure tax,” Mr Parker added.

“These two forms have satisfied Customs for decades and can continue to do so in a digital format while saving time and effort by everyone involved. A separate, simplified general aviation app makes sense given that the original Click2Clear application was built for agents and businesses, and later to capture payments from pleasure craft (boats).

“It contains a lot of moving parts that simply do not apply to general aviation aircraft. When you send your recommendations to Mr Munroe, I also suggest that you advise them to continue to accept paper documents and cash payments for the few pilots who are not comfortable with online processes.”

Comments

DDK 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Too bad Government is unable to trust its own staff to collect and turn in fees🤣🤣 The joke is, what happens to the fees when they get gobbled up by the so-called "Consolidated Fund"? Who steals the revenue then?😂😂

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JokeyJack 2 months, 1 week ago

Exactly. We NEVER get to learn where the money actually goes, but only get "budgets" with "projections" and the like. What money actually came into the Treasury, say, in 2018 and was spent in 2018 is a BIG secret. Even the Leader of the Opposition who serves as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee seemingly has no authority to find out what the current government (or any current government) is actually doing with "our ?" money.

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tribanon 2 months, 1 week ago

LMAO....so much so that my ribs are hurting. Never under estimate the power of those who have always lived virtually duty-free within our nation.

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ThisIsOurs 2 months, 1 week ago

HUH???

They havent apologized to Bahamians for Clicktoclear delays upon delays upon delays yet. In fact the stance was, its here, live with it.

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ThisIsOurs 2 months, 1 week ago

I dont know who is in charge of "digitization". Its clear they're not designers. So far it seems as if they believe the goal is met once you can type something in a computer. This satisfies most Bahamians as "revolutionary", I suppose it is given the previous process but across the board they've missed the "transformation" part. It's the same backward process with a computer interface. Anyone implementing a digital system to cause more work for the user or backend processors has completely missed the point

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ThisIsOurs 2 months, 1 week ago

"This was the single ugliest thing I’ve seen in 18 years that I’ve been doing this. This was the ugliest thing I’ve seen. I deal with Mexican air space, and this thing was not there, but it was ugly all the way around. It was ugly, but the good news is we’ll never know how bad it could have been, but I have to tell you I think it would have been really bad.”

Who designed this thing? Better yet who selected it as the "solition"?

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tribanon 2 months, 1 week ago

I heard someone say Click2Clear may have been developed by Think Simple. That can't be right!

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DWW 2 months, 1 week ago

oh i simply love it. click to clwar is wonderfuk. i now have to pay $50 for customs broker plus tge duty and vat to import that $50 car part that ends up costing a total of $200. sure its easeir on business buts sure aint more cost efficient. lets keep banging them out of the park people. since we are on the suject whats the point of C2C? they made me create an account but there is nothing in the system? like why bother making me create the account? should i not be able to see all the stuff associated with me? from the outside loooking in the whole thing looks just a massive clusterf#$k

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The_Oracle 2 months, 1 week ago

Outsourced programming sent out by Customs people who have no clue about the private sector hoops they create, and now digitize to make it more complicated, which still doesn't work, all to stop internal fraud/graft/treasury leakage. Still waiting on a list of private sector businesses they supposedly consult with. Cain't seem to find one.......

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