Good Caribbean weather doesn't guarantee peaceful sunny flights
Wherever you go, study the rules and stay vigilant. Remember, you're not in the States any more.
By Grant McLaren
Line personnel service Cessna Grand Caravans at Odyssey Aviation NAS (Nassau, Bahamas). Parking is plentiful at NAS with capacity for more than 80 business jets.
After a couple of slower-than-normal winter seasons traffic and bookings are up again to the Caribbean and Bahamas. Resort developments, previously on hold, are now going forward and corporate aviation infrastructure and services are improving across the region.
A new airport is planned for the island of St Vincent, to replace operationally restricted 4595-ft SVD (Kingstown, St Vincent & Grenadines), runway overrun was extended at AXA (Wallblake, Anguilla) and general aviation terminals (GATs) are now in place at POS (Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago) and SXM (St Maarten, Netherland Antilles) with a GAT in planning for BDA (Bermuda, Bermuda).
An important recent development has been inauguration of US customs and immigration pre-clearance for both Part 91 private and Part 135 charter operators at AUA (Oranjestad, Aruba). Meanwhile, international support providers (ISPs) are positioning themselves for anticipated handling opportunities in Cuba as relations between that nation and the US finally begin to thaw.
"We're expecting a strong season throughout the Caribbean this year," says Universal Aviation Regional Dir Latin America & the Caribbean Walter Lindo. "Traffic is up not only up from the US and Europe. It's also picked up noticeably from Latin America—particularly Colombia, Brazil and Panama. With full US customs and immigration preclearance now operational (0700–2300 and on call 24 hrs), AUA has become a particularly attractive tech stop for operators flying to the US."
FBO2000 has added corporate hangarage at ANU (St John's, Antigua & Barbuda) while launching a new FBO facility at NEV (Nevis Island, St Kitts & Nevis) and beefing up handling services at SKB (Basseterre, St Kitts & Nevis).
"Following the 2008 season, when the entire world felt the plunge from the financial fallout, business was almost back to normal last season and bookings are up for the coming season," says FBO2000 CEO Makeda Michael. "At ANU we've revamped catering options this year to include a new Caribbean seafood menu featuring lobster from the island of Barbuda."
While the Caribbean and Bahamas are traditionally easy operating environments, with few permits, restrictions and visa requirements, parking can be an issue at some locations during high season and fuel shortages still occur here and there.
And you've got to be diligent in filing APIS within the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), representing 15 island nations. IAM Jet Centre, with full service FBOs at BGI (Bridgetown, Barbados) and MBJ (Montego Bay, Jamaica), points out that each island has its own unique way of doing things and operators have the potential to run into problems.
"It's the little things at locations throughout the region that can trip you up so ask a lot of questions before you go," says IAM Jet Centre CEO Paul Worrell. "Beware of parking and ramp limitations, particularly at smaller fields such as EIS (Tortola, British Virgin Islands), SLU (Castries, St Lucia) and NEV. Some islands have limitations, such as lav service only with preplanning, limited catering, lack of towbars and tough quarantine regulations for pets."
Meanwhile, up in the Bahamas, Odyssey Aviation has been busy expanding service options. "We've recently opened new satellite bases at GGT (Georgetown, Great Exuma, Bahamas) and TCB (Treasure Cay, Abaco Islands, Bahamas) and we're in the process of building an FBO facility at GGT with the same level of services we offer at NAS (Nassau, Bahamas)," says Odyssey Guest Services Mgr Zelda Evans who has ramp space for 80-plus business jets at NAS.
"The Bahamas is an easy and welcoming operating environment and traffic is up this year with increased aircraft movements from all over the world."
Tips and cautions
Arrindell Aviation Services at SXM (St Maarten, Netherlands Antilles) is celebrating 21 years in business. Here, line crew meet a Citation.
Beware of short and relatively short runways which may be temptingly close to your final destination, resort or yacht harbor. There have been a couple of incidents over recent years of larger business jets sustaining landing damage at 3996-ft NEV. SLU has a good 5735-ft runway but with extremely limited apron and prior permission—with an indemnity waiver—is required for any nonscheduled landing.
You're better off to land at 9003-ft UVF (Vieux Fort, St Lucia) at the south end of the island, with plenty of parking available, and either drive or arrange a helicopter to your destination.
For smaller, more out of the way, strips such as BQU (Bequia Island, St Vincent & Grenadines), CRU (Carriacou, Grenada), MQS (Mustique, St Vincent & Grenadines) or VIJ (Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands), ISPs suggest you land at a larger center and use a turboprop alternative to safely access the local field.
SVD can be a challenging option, with some quirky aspects, for corporate operators, says Worrell. "SVD has very limited parking and a one-way-in runway in towards the hills. I'm aware of operators at SVD waiting a couple of days for wind direction to change before attempting departure."
At smaller fields you can also anticipate limited services and catering options say local handlers. "All the islands are known for superb cuisine but availability and reliability of catering varies from island to island," adds Worrell. Odyssey NAS Public Relations Mgr Anthony Hinsey says that catering is often repositioned from NAS to out island stations within the Bahamas.
Throughout the Caribbean, in areas of limited parking such as SXM and GCM (Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands), operators must be prepared to reposition. NEV is usually a drop-and-go destination with parking secured at nearly SKB. While SXM is known to run out of parking during major winter holidays and US long weekends AXA is often a good reliever airport in terms of available parking.
Popular CIW (Canouan Island, St Vincent & Grenadines) has a good runway for business jets but minimal services and fuel can be very expensive. Parking area at CIW is close to the beach so there's risk of salt air exposure if you're contemplating a longer stop.
To further complicate operations to Caribbean islands, during high season, are the phenomena of sold out hotel rooms, very expensive $600/night plus crew rooms and long cancellation notice requirements should your itinerary change.
If you're carrying guns or pets—particularly dogs—to the region do your homework say ISPs. Importing weapons usually requires 48 hrs advance notice in the Bahamas while firearms may be totally banned at other islands.