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MP on Out Island airport fees: ‘Where’s the sky?’

Member of Parliament for St. Anne's Adrian White speaks during a sitting of the House of Assembly on May 15, 2024. Photo: Dante Carrer/Tribune Staff

Member of Parliament for St. Anne's Adrian White speaks during a sitting of the House of Assembly on May 15, 2024. Photo: Dante Carrer/Tribune Staff

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Fears have been voiced that Bahamian residents could be placed “under an economic lockdown” through the imposition of new and increased fees to pay for Family Island airport redevelopments.

Adrian White, the Opposition MP for St Anne’s, asked “where’s the sky” as he urged the Government to establish a policy limit on how much Bahamian residents can be charged by private operators of these airports to help repay lenders and earn a return on their investments.

Citing the fees implemented on July 1, 2024, by the Bimini Airport Development Partners (BADP) consortium that will lead the $80m transformation of that island’s airport, he argued that the combination of passenger facility and processing fees plus a $1 levy means that Biminites will have to pay an extra $51 every time they wish to travel by air outside The Bahamas.

And, based on the latest fees schedule that has been seen by Tribune Business, these combined fees are set to increase to $58 per person with effect from January 1, 2025. Mr White branded the fees for the first six months as “killing me softly”, and argued that the January 1, 2025, rises represent the “just killing me stage” as he queried whether Bimini’s airport needs could have been addressed for under $80m.

He argued that the fees set by BADP will likely establish the market for those charged at the other 13 Family Island airports which are part of the Government’s so-called “renaissance” project, where it is seeking private sector investors and operators to provide the necessary capital and expertise to transform these facilities into ones that meet global safety, regulatory and operational standards.

Dr Kenneth Romer, the Government’s director of aviation, last week defended the fee increases at airports such as Bimini as “the price of development” and argued that the Government had undertaken a study to ensure they were competitive with other destinations. He also said the Government and private operators will listen to residents’ concerns and make adjustments if necessary.

Mr White, though, told Tribune Business he felt the impact on Bahamians and residents living in the Family Islands has not been given enough consideration - especially those who have to fly frequently to other domestic and international destinations. He added that the imposition of such fees will only further fuel the post-COVID cost of living crisis.

“You have two stages,” the MP said in relation to the Bimini airport fees. “The first stage is the killing me softly stage for six months, and the second stage that comes into effect on January 1 is the just killing me stage.”

Bimini Airport Development Partners (BAPF), in an updated May 3, 2024, notice to commercial, charter and private aviation customers, served warning of its intent to impose a passenger facility fee on travellers from July 1, 2024, this year. These fees were set at $20 for domestic travellers, and doubled to $40 for international passengers.

Meanwhile, the passenger processing fee was pegged at $5 for domestic, and $10 for international, travellers with both categories also having to pay a $1 “passenger levy”. In total, these additional fees come to $26 for domestic passengers and $51 for their international counterparts, and are on top of the $29 per head departure tax.

The BADP fee schedule then reveals that the passenger facility fee is being increased to $25 for domestic travellers, and $45 for international passengers, with effect from January 1, 2025. And the passenger processing fee will rise to $6 for domestic, and $12 for international, travellers with effect from that same date. Thus persons leaving Bimini to travel outside The Bahamas will have to pay an extra $58.

“Just imagine if you have an emergency and have to leave the country,” Mr White told this newspaper. “You could have a medical emergency that will cost more money than you have, and you may have to take your child with you. It could cost you an additional $102 for you and they to leave your country.

“You’re putting them [Bimini residents] under an economic lockdown. You might think you can add more and more increases on to the cost of travel because people will be forced to take it. But do you want to force Bahamians into an economic depression? 

“You need to make their fees, their cost of living as low as possible. That’s not being felt by this killing me softly, killing me coming out with these fees in Bimini. I am concerned that there hasn’t been anything communicated as to these PPPs (public-private partnerships).”

The Bimini airport consortium has already delayed, and pushed back, the imposition of the new fees by almost two months with Tribune Business having previously revealed it intended to implement them on May 6 this year based on its April 26, 2024, notice to the aviation industry. Its subsequent May 3 missive, revising the dates, differed only in that it acknowledged consultation with the sector has occurred.

“This notice is to serve as an announcement concerning the change of management at South Bimini International Airport,” the notice read. “Effective May 6, 2024, Bimini Airport Development Partners (BADP) will assume the management, operations and development of the airport.

“BADP will begin immediate improvements of the airport to modernise and expand the facility, improve airside and navigational infrastructure, procure equipment and enhance services and processes. As a part of our endeavour to provide world-class services, and following consultation, we will be continuing and implementing various rates and charges for all general aviation private operators and passengers.”

Mr White, though, argued that the Bimini consortium’s fees have effectively set the floor on the fees other Family Island airport PPPs will charge as he voiced concerns about “not trapping Bahamians in their islands”.

“As we look at the Family Island airports, if they do go forward as PPPs, being competing business models, and if we use an airport like Bimini, entering the market adding $26 for local flights and $51 for international flights, the next PPP will come in at a similar rate. Why go lower?” the St Anne’s MP said.

“There needs to be a policy on how much Bahamians have to pay on top of existing aviation taxes. Some people may be travelling from Bimini on an almost daily basis for family and medical reasons they have to deal with. We definitely have to look at this. There’s not been anything said publicly.

“Where is the sky in this case? Where is the limit? Why can’t Bahamians be the beneficiary of reduced rates? Any policy needs to know where the end is before it begins. If we’ve not begun putting the end in writing, it’s going to be killing me softly, killing me for all these Family Islands getting these airport PPPs.”

While acknowledging that the runways, terminals and other operational areas at many Family Island airports need to be improved, and aligned with international safety, regulatory and operational standards, Mr White queried whether the amount of investment required is as much as the $80m being spent on Bimini.

“That’s why accepting these fees is beyond me, and when the facts become known I’m sure it’ll be beyond an acceptable level to the Bahamian people,” the St Anne’s MP added. The focus at Bimini appears to be on boosting airlift by attracting larger and more frequent commercial flights, with the principal beneficiary set to be the Genting-owned Resorts World Bimini project. 

Dr Romer, though, last week said the issue had been discussed with Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister and minister of tourism, investments and aviation, and it was determined “there is a price” for ensuring Family Island airports are brought up to standard.

He said: “The concern came as a result of the implementation of new fees that seem, in some cases, exorbitant notwithstanding that many of the other airports did not really charge certain fees that were passed on to customers.

“The deputy prime minister would have indicated that there was a price that comes again with development, especially world class infrastructural development, to attract the new airlift to the islands - international, domestic - and to really support the economy of these islands. And so there was the imposition of some fees.”

Dr Romer maintained that the Department of Aviation is open to making changes to these fees upon feedback from residents but will continue to do “what needs to be done” to ensure Family Islands have proper airport infrastructure.

 

Comments

birdiestrachan 1 week, 4 days ago

Mr white has to find fault , airports are expensive to maintain that is why the GBPA sold the airport to his FNM Government dumb and dangerous on display all the time

birdiestrachan 1 week, 4 days ago

I doubt mr white knows what he is talking or may be he was not yet born because his papa Mr Ingraham said it was impossible for the Bahamas to controltheir air space, Mrs Hanna Martin worked very had the work was done , the FNM only had to pass the law well done well done ms

Hanna well done PLP And there is nothing that can change those facts, Mr White you Fnm papa Mr Hubert ingraham also said Bahamians could not buy BTc

sheeprunner12 1 week, 2 days ago

The New Day PLP Government has betrayed the Out Islands. We have regressed decades under them.

They want all of the Out Islanders to become economic migrants. The degrading state of our infrastructure, the cost of shipping of basic materials, food & fuel AND increased fees on our boats, cars and travel will make it very difficult to live outside of the cities. The cancellation of the Vertical Blue diving competition in Long Island is just one example of the crisis that is coming.

This New Day airport redevelopment plan will be a disaster for the Out Islands, based on this Bimini model.

DWW 1 week, 2 days ago

The simple fact of the matter is that when govt talks PPP it blatantly and loudly admits the the govt has failed miserably despite confiscating 25% of the entire economy in the name of taxes. If the $3,300,000,000 that the govt earned in 2023 is not enough to build and maintain the infrastructure of the Bahamas then the govt is clearly an abject failure. if $3,300,000,000 is not enough to pay all the salaries of civil servants and maintain the roads and airports, then the govt is a terrible waste of time. both parties are equally and entirely culpable. A spade is a spade no?

birdiestrachan 1 week, 2 days ago

Economic lock down Neil that is you and Mr, white dream and hope it will not happen so dream on

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