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.

IAM Jet Centre offers 5-star facilities and services at BGI (Bridgetown, Barbados) and MBJ (Montego Bay, Jamaica). (Above) BGI is a popular tech stop and strategic place to park while passengers travel onward to smaller island locations with limited runways.

While a pet dog may be allowed access to the Bahamas with 48 hrs notice and a copy of a recent vet certificate, and may often enter certain French speaking islands relatively seamlessly with adequate advance prep, some islands can be much more problematic in this regard cautions Worrell.

"Dogs still face impoundment on Barbados and other English speaking islands. UK-based pets are allowed in with the necessary papers but pets from the US usually require quarantine. Adequate preplanning is important when coming to the Caribbean."

Fuel shortages still occur here and there, seemingly every year, at certain destinations. SMX is an extremely popular destination in season and it's advisable to land with sufficient fuel to get out says Arrindell Aviation Services Flight Coordinator Henky Rivers.

"Every season we seem to have 1 or 2 days without fuel and we may not know about these shortages until last minute. Shortages can happen midweek as well as on weekends so it's advisable to carry enough fuel to get out."

Occasional fuel shortages are also reported at GCM says Intl Trip Planning Services (ITPS) COO Phil Linebaugh. Jeppesen Intl Client Relations Mgr Walter Taylor notes, "There can be rolling fuel shortages during the busy winter season.

Airports can randomly run out of fuel last minute. We've had cases of clients enroute to SMX when the fuel supplier called to say no fuel was available and they had to refile to either ANU or AXA."

Ground holds also occur from time to time due to lack of parking and/or ATC delays. "These delays occur during peak times and due to congestion and are beyond the handler's control," says Rivers. "We'll often suggest that the crew divert from SMX to AXA."

Positive developments

Universal Aviation AUA staff. (L–R) CSRs Keidy Cabarcas, Helena Wouters, Analia Rasmijn, Stephanie Kock and Ruby Croes. The AUA GA terminal was completed in 2006.

In addition to new preclearance options at AUA operators continue to have access to full US customs and immigration clearance in Puerto Rico. Operators report that while clearance at SJU (Luís Muñoz Marín, San Juan, Puerto Rico) can be somewhat cumbersome, an excellent alternative is to clear at BQN (Aguadilla, Puerto Rico) where delays and long shuttles across the ramp are avoided but operations are restricted to daylight hours.

Meanwhile, US preclearance remains available at STT (St Thomas, US Virgin Islands) and STX (St Croix, US Virgin Islands) but, in this case, operators must continue on to a US airport with customs on the field.

AUA preclearance is smooth and quick, involving only about 40 min says Lindo. The AUA GAT, completed in 2006, offers full pilot facilities with showers, lounges, online weather, catering facilities and a small restaurant, while dedicated fuel trucks reduce operator dependence on third-party suppliers.

"We have over 600 corporate movements at AUA some months with about 30% of traffic making tech stops," says Lindo. "Preclearance has been working very smoothly. During preclearance and baggage checks a pilot is usually permitted to stay with the aircraft, with a CBP officer, to begin fueling and preparations for departure."

Keep in mind that you must fly to a US airport with incinerator capability for international trash so this limits your options.

While dramatic security failures take place within the region now and again—tourists attacked on remote beaches, in town muggings and the like—the environment is really no more risky than the US or Europe say local handlers.

Practice basic common sense as you would in Manhattan or south Florida, and avoid walking down dark alleys at 3 am and always maintain awareness. Crews, particularly on longer stopovers in the islands, should focus on safe activities and not risk being sidelined by some sort of accident.

"You're better off taking a sailing course, a local boat cruise or cooking class than engaging in scuba diving or extreme windsurfing activities," says Michael.

As Cuba finally opens up to US traffic we'll no doubt see new destination and service opportunities within the region and this will be a welcome change. Universal Aviation, among other service pro­viders, is involved in pioneering efforts in terms of Cuban handling opportunities and has sent advance teams to the island to assess opportunities says Lindo.

IAM Jet Centre has developed a specialty in facilitating movements to Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana and most traffic to this region of South America has been headed for Guyana, where advance landing permission is required, says Worrell.

Flying south for the winter

The Caribbean and Bahamas remain relatively straightforward operating environments. As long as you do your homework, understand limitations at certain destinations and comply with CARICOM APIS requirements you'll be able to look forward to a smooth and successful trip.

There have not been many regulatory or infrastructure changes in recent years and the operating environment remains stable. A new airport on the island of St Vincent may open within the next couple of years, MBJ will have its runway resurfaced (with no traffic delays expected during the process) in time for the beginning of this season.

Meanwhile DCF (Canefield, Dominica) will extend airport hours for this season. While a new GAT is planned for BDA there's a risk that this may have become stuck in government limbo suggests Jeppesen Intl Business Consultant Intl Trip Planning Professional Services Client Solutions Nancy Pierce.

And, while AXA extended its runway recently to comply with ICAO overrun requirements this may have effectively shortened the runway and limited ops to that airport.

Worrell reports that while US traffic still represents the largest market the fastest growing market to the islands these days is Europe. Lindo predicts an uptick in business traffic to the region generated from Latin American-based operators as locally-based fleets of corporate jets continue to grow.

Tech stops remain strong across the Caribbean with many good 24-hr options available, including ANU, AUA, BGI and NAS. And, if you're headed for SMX during high season get your parking reservations in early says Rivers. "We can have up to 70 corporate jets on the ramp during peak periods so it's best to get your parking requests in by October if you intend to visit over the holiday season."

Editor-at-Large Grant McLaren has written for Pro Pilot for over 20 years and specializes in corporate flight department coverage.


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