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‘No harm’: Private aviation meets ‘bonkers’ prior years

• No crime alert fall-out as private fliers ‘push back’

• Industry operators assert no flight cancellations

• Crime fears dealt with as trends match ‘22, ‘23

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

THE Bahamas’ private aviation business was yesterday said to have suffered “no harm” from saturation media coverage of this nation’s crime woes with visitor numbers matching the “bonkers” prior two years.

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, told Tribune Business the private pilot social media forums he monitors showed regular fliers to The Bahamas “pushing back” and advising others not to worry about reports on the recent murder spike.

A Bahamas Flying Ambassador, he disclosed that his firm had witnessed no cancellations of flights to The Bahamas for which it was scheduled to provide services after negative reporting on the country’s crime situation first surfaced in late January and earlier this month.

And Charles Bowe, general manager at Jet Nassau, the major fixed base operator (FBO) at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA), told this newspaper that private aviation business handled by his company has remained “consistent” with prior years.

While the crime coverage had created a “hiccup”, and sparked multiple inquiries from concerned aviation industry participants and visitors, Mr Bowe said Jet Nassau had largely been able to reassure them that The Bahamas remains a safe destination for tourists to visit and he has “personally” seen no flight cancellations as a result.

“They’ve been consistent,” he added of private aviation business volumes. “We had a slow period right after the New Year mark, but that’s normal. Everyone travels in that period, and then everybody settles down for two weeks, and then we see it picking up again.

“We need that two weeks because that prior period is literally so crazy it wears you down. Maintenance, giving your guys some rest from the fatigue, because it’s a 24-hour operation... The only hiccup that we see is this crime situation. I got a lot of calls on that, both people in the industry and visitors from all over the world.

“They’d send me: ‘What’s up with this warning from the State Department? Should we be concerned?’ etc etc.” Mr Bowe said he and his team responded to “quite a few inquiries” by reassuring existing and prospective clients that the murder and crime spike was largely confined to inner-city New Providence areas not usually frequented by tourists, while visitors were not the target and not involved in any incident.

“We haven’t seen any tangible fall-off per se,” the Jet Nassau chief told Tribune Business. “I personally have not seen any cancellations based on it. Someone seeing something in the news, they did reach out, but once we had a communication with most of the clients they were reassured to come down and had a great time.

“From the numbers I see, I don’t see where it’s had an affect. I don’t know about the hotels, the cruise ships, but private aviation. Right after Christmas we expect a drop-off. That’s standard. Every year we have it. Every year.

“It actually picked up a little earlier than expected, and it’s trending right along with last year and the year before. I think we are going to be right at the same numbers as last year. Nothing untoward has happened.”

Mr Bowe said he has yet to conduct a detailed analysis of the year-to-date numbers, but Mr Gardiner affirmed that private aviation business volumes are closely shadowing “the bonkers” post-COVID years of 2022 and 2023 when virtually the entire industry seemed to be travelling.

As for any fall-out from saturation media coverage of US and Canadian travel advisories, the Bahamas Flying Ambassador added: “I honestly have not seen any chatter or anything negative of any significance in the pilot forums I monitor, and nor have we had any cancellations or anything on the flights we’re providing services to due to the negative press.

“I’ve seen more about it on Bahamian diaspora chats on What’s App than anywhere else. I don’t see it.” Mr Gardiner added that one online pilot private forum had clarified that the crime and murder spike was occurring in Over-the- Hill areas rarely, if ever, frequented by visitors and that no tourists had been involved or caught up in incidents that were mainly linked to gang-related retaliation.

“The stuff I’ve seen is that people who fly to The Bahamas are pushing back and saying: ‘Don’t worry about it’,” Mr Gardiner added. “To answer your question, quite simply I’ve not seen anything of any significance. The online communities where people may say they need to think twice about going, we haven’t seen anything.

“The short answer is we’ve not seen any chatter or anything of significance that would say this is really having an effect on private aviation. We’ve not seen anything.” Mr Gardiner said the private aviation market was more immune, and less likely to be impacted by the media reporting, as it features regular visitors to The Bahamas who know the country and understand the on-ground situation.

“They are more informed and are not the casual tourist who hops to The Bahamas for the weekend,” he added. “These are people that regularly fly there and, if they don’t, they will pose a question and those that do will answer it on a factual basis, not on theory or drama.

“I’ve not seen anything to worry about at this point. It’s just more because of the fact that there are so many people that regularly fly their air planes to The Bahamas, and there is a sufficiently large base of people that answer saying ‘I was just there or go every month. Let me tell you what my experience is’.

“That goes a long way to settle people down. You can get into more trouble in Miami than Nassau. You can find trouble in Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles. It’s all a matter of putting things back in perspective,” Mr Gardiner added.

“I think overall that the market is still really, really strong and I don’t see any harm from any of the negative press and US State Department warnings and alerts. I’m not seeking any significant change.” While there had been “a slight softening” in January, the present month is enjoying “an uptick”, with Mr Gardiner pointing out that 2024 is up against comparisons from the “bonkers high” of 2022 and 2023.

He added, though, that competition from Caribbean and Central American rivals for the private aviation market is intensifying. Belize has been attempting to make inroads, while Costa Rica has cut landing and parking fees by between 30-50 percent to attract pilots and their planes. The Dominican Republic, too, continues to try and lure the business by offering a variety of fee discounts.

Mr Gardiner, though, argued that The Bahamas continues to retain a competitive advantage through its geographic proximity to the US and multi-island destination appeal. Both Belize and Costa Rica have to fight against the extra distance and complexity of flying there, as it requires multiple permits and flying through the air space of different countries.

“The distance and complexity for those countries is much greater, so the bar is much higher,” Mr Gardiner told Tribune Business. “The Bahamas enjoys the geographic advantage, so keep it simple keep, keep it inexpensive, keep the bar low and they’ll jump over it. They will complain about a $50 increase in the landing fee but stay at a luxury hotel.”

Comparing private aviation to high-end yachts, he added that while the latter arrived in The Bahamas already fully stocked and with on-board accommodation, the former needed a place to stay, activities to do and restaurants to eat out at.

“They’re going to pump a whole lot more money into the local economy than yachts will,” Mr Gardiner said. “That’s not to say yachts don’t pump some money into it, but nothing compared to private aircraft. If you get the itch to go see the swimming pigs in Exuma, you can jump on a plane to Staniel Cay. If you want to see Dean’s Blue Hole, you can jump on a plane to Long Island.

“Keep it simple and they’ll spread the money around the islands instead of it being concentrated in Nassau/Paradise Island and Freeport. I was just in Exuma at the end of last year, and it was rocking and rolling. There were a lot of private planes.”

Comments

birdiestrachan 3 months ago

Thanks mr Gardiner and mr Bowe

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