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Top aviation body: Delay Customs regime to 2023

• Warns ‘tedious’ entry process will ‘alienate’ private pilots

• AOPA chief urges DPM to ‘pause’ go ahead until end Q1

• Some fliers warn ‘everybody loses’ and abandoning visits

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The world’s largest aviation association is urging The Bahamas to delay implementing a new border entry and exit regime for private pilots until early 2023 amid fears the process will be “very tedious, cumbersome and unintuitive”.

Mark Baker, president and chief executive of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), in a May 24, 2022, letter to deputy prime minister, Chester Cooper, called on the Government to delay the introduction of Customs’ Click2Clear system for private aviation until the end of the 2023 first quarter.

The new regime through which private pilots must gain Customs clearance to enter The Bahamas is due to come into effect next Wednesday, June 1, but Mr Baker - whose non-profit advocacy group represents several hundred thousand members - pleaded for a “pause” that would both allow the sector to become better acquainted with Click2Clear and enable this nation to make any adjustments necessary to aid a lucrative tourism segment.

“It has recently come to my attention, from third parties, that The Bahamas Customs Department plans to implement the Click2Clear initiative on May 30, 2022, for all private aircraft operators flying into and out of The Bahamas,” the AOPA chief wrote to Mr Cooper, who is also minister for tourism, investments and aviation.

“Unfortunately, since this programme has not been officially announced nor assimilated with private pilots, I write to request postponing the implementation of the Click2Clear programme for private pilots until the end of the first quarter of 2023.”

Following what was described as a “marathon” two-hour meeting last Friday to address concerns with Click2Clear, involving Customs and Ministry of Tourism officials, as well as Bahamas Flying Ambassadors and private aviation representatives, this newspaper was told the new system’s implementation had been delayed until this Monday. However, Odyssey Aviation, the fixed base operator (FBO), told its clients the ‘go live’ date had been pushed to Wednesday.

Regardless, justifying a more extensive push back until around March next year, Mr Baker wrote: “This pause will allow the necessary time to obtain feedback from impacted stakeholders to make any improvements to the Click2Clear initiative, provide education and training on any new Customs processes, and to implement the initiative during a lower air traffic period to avoid confusion and any major disruption in the event of a system malfunction.

“As someone who flies to The Bahamas, I and others are concerned about this new and untested process for private aircraft pilots. Although it appears Click2Clear has been in existence since 2018 for air cargo operators, we are not aware of any formal announcement of information published on The Bahamas’ government website.

“While I appreciate the initiative by The Bahamas in supporting new and efficient methods to improve the Customs process, I believe reasonable notice with adequate instruction is also warranted,” the AOPA president added. “Although Click2Clear might be appropriate for other users (for example, air cargo), I have been informed by others suggesting that it is very tedious, cumbersome and unintuitive.

“AOPA would like to work with your team to ensure the Click2Clear programme is vetted for use by private pilots so as to ensure we can reduce complexity and confusion, and avoid the risk of deterring and alienating private operators from visiting The Bahamas.”

An AOPA spokesman yesterday told Tribune Business that the organisation had received “many” inquiries from private pilots voicing concern about The Bahamas’ new Click2Clear clearance system. More calls on the subject were received by the AOPA’s call centre yesterday, and they said: “I am not sure of the exact number, but what I can confidently say is that there’s been many inquiries.

“We have so many members, especially as the skies are continuing to open up and people are looking to fly in this nicer weather, and The Bahamas is a top destination. When there’s an issue with a top destination like The Bahamas it’s not a surprise we have things like this.”

Some in the private aviation industry are voicing fears that Click2Clear will add unnecessary bureaucracy and complexity, which could deter private pilots from flying to The Bahamas and cost this nation up to 25 percent of its existing market in a business that is especially valuable for distributing high-spending visitors around all the country’s islands rather than having them concentrated in New Providence.

Others, though, are taking a “trust but verify” approach, having been somewhat reassured by Friday’s meeting outcome that Customs is listening to private aviation’s concerns and is prepared to adjust Click2Clear and its procedures accordingly so that it achieves its objectives without undermining the industry.

Some private pilots, though, are already threatening to abandon or postpone planned visits to The Bahamas. Edward Grayden, in an e-mail to the AOPA’s Mr Baker that was shared with Tribune Business, wrote: “For two years, since the start of the COVID pandemic, I have put aside my trip to The Bahamas. I had decided to make the travel arrangements for this fall until I became aware of the intended Bahamian app which is set to begin at the end of May.

“After delving into what appears to be an onerous debacle by the Bahamian Customs Department with the implementation of Click2Clear, sadly I will not be able to once again enjoy a flight to a destination that offers so much for the general aviation pilot.

“I hope you and AOPA look into this matter because, if this online app by Bahamian Customs takes place, everybody loses - pilots, Bahamian tourism, and all aviation-connected businesses. I reviewed a succinct proposal by Jim Parker of Caribbean Flying Adventures, which would reverse this complicated, bureaucratic and threatening Bahamian Customs proposal,” he continued.

“How about making my day, as well as other general aviation pilots, in helping all of us continue to fly to and experience the beauty and wonderment that the Bahamas and its citizens offer?” Mr Parker has suggested creating a separate online app specifically for private pilots, where they could both fill-out the C7A (arrival) and general declaration form and pay the necessary fees and departure taxes. That, though, is unlikely to happen.

To clear Customs upon entry to The Bahamas, private pilots presently have to file their flight plan and complete a C7A inward declaration form. The information required includes the plane owner and pilot’s names, the aircraft registration number, the identities of any passengers, and details on where the plans is coming from and on its departure.

A $50 Customs arrival fee is also payable. A general declaration form must also be completed on departure, together with the $29 per person departure tax. However, Customs has swiftly moved to digitise these long-standing manual processes by requiring that they now be completed via its Click2Clear electronic portal, seemingly with little to no warning for the industry.

The goal will likely be to collect all revenue due to the Government from the private aviation industry and its customers, and ensure that all the necessary electronic records to document this and their arrival are in place. A ‘flyer’ from Bahamas Customs & Excise’s information technology (IT) unit, sent to the sector and obtained by Tribune Business, said the reforms will boost convenience and efficiency for all as pilots can submit payment and the forms before they arrive.

“Click2Clear’s ‘pleasure craft module’ will be a game changer to revolutionise the way private aircrafts clear into The Bahamas via air travel,” the Customs document said, adding that the new system had been due to launch on May 2. “Make travel simpler and easy from the comfort of your home or office before arriving to The Bahamas.”

The AOPA’s Mr Baker, in his letter to Mr Cooper, described the association as “one of the largest, if not the largest, supporters and marketers of travel to The Bahamas”. It was for this reason that he expressed hope the Government and AOPA can “work together to ensure an efficient and functional programme for private pilots”.

Referring to the AOPA’s Bahamas Guide, which details the country’s 57 airports and “been the go-to resource for private pilots flying to The Bahamas for many years”, Mr Baker said the lack of notice meant it had not been upgraded to include Click2Clear and its requirements.

Dr Kenneth Romer, the Ministry of Tourism’s deputy director-general and acting aviation director, who was copied on the letter to Mr Cooper did not respond to a Tribune Business message seeking comment before press time last night. Greg Rolle, another tourism official who works directly with private aviation and attended Friday’s meeting, also received the letter.

Simon Wilson, the Ministry of Finance’s financial secretary, told Tribune Business that Click2Clear had been designed as a “one-stop portal” for dealing with all Customs processes and he had advised the agency to use it to its full “potential”. However, he added that the system can be adjusted to address any concerns.

“The application was designed to be a one-stop shop portal for all Customs matters,” he explained. “The system reflects the work process. If there are concerns we can take it on and make adjustments. It reflects the work flow as it exists now. The one thing I’ve said to Customs is that they’ve got to use the system to its full potential. It’s a very expensive system so they might as well use it to its potential.”

Mr Wilson said Click2Clear had been designed and implemented by Crimson Logic, a software firm owned by the Singapore government and regarded as one of the top-tier developers of Customs-related programs.

Comments

Biminibrad 2 months, 3 weeks ago

How many people from Singapore know the Process of coming to Bahamas first hand?

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Loneeagleswa 2 months, 3 weeks ago

If It Ain't Broke ... Don't Fix It ....

Been flying to the Bahamas since 2010 ... Been a piece of Cake ... UNTIL NOW ... 3 - C7As forms for arrival and 1 - C7 form for Departure is required.

There has been NO Notifications to anyone or ANY Pilot Group outside the Bahamas about this being program even being implemented. I personally received notification from a Custom Official that this was going to be required????

Click2Clear requires a printer to print the documents after your inputs. Who has a printer in the Out Islands to do such ... This is just one of the problems with this program ...

It is VERY Tedious to input the information as well ...

AOPA has kindly asked to delay this program until 2023.

Lastly ... I wonder what information the Chinese will be able to Harvest from the information electronically transmitted ... i.e.- Passport numbers, names, addresses ... Not Happy with the program ....

Once Again ... If It Ain't Broke ... Don't Fix It ....

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