07 Aug 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the global aviation industry on its head with operations slowly grinding to a complete halt. The Bahamas has not been spared.
At present, no international or domestic flights are permitted to operate to, from or within The Bahamas with the exception of those authorised by The Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) to conduct cargo or emergency relief flights.
The Bahamas Association of Air Transport Operators advised that all domestic operations ceased following the government's implementation of The Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (2) Order, 2020. As a result, operators have temporarily relieved staff.
No doubt these are unprecedented times and the economic fallout is an unknown quantity at this point. What is known is that many operators will be faced with the daunting challenge of resuming 'normal' operations once the emergency order has been lifted.
What is also unknown is whether the relevant government agencies (ie, the BCAA and the Nassau Airport Authority) will relieve air operators of certain financial obligations while the emergency order remains in effect and in the weeks and months thereafter once it has been lifted.
Industry leaders have made several requests to the government, particularly the Central Bank of The Bahamas, to determine the industry's contribution to the country's gross domestic product, which to date has not been forthcoming. If this contribution remains unknown, it will be extremely difficult to determine the financial impact of COVID-19 on the Bahamian aviation industry.
To date, the country's state-owned national flag carrier, Bahamasair, has laid off no employees and is conducting no scheduled flights apart from ad hoc humanitarian relief flights. At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, Bahamasair Chair Tommy Turnquest stated that the pandemic will no doubt impact the airline's revenue as well as deciding what measures it will adopt following the COVID-19 pandemic. He further stated that the airline must be as humane as possible during this time.
The CEO of Nassau Airport Development Company has confirmed that LPIA is currently in a state of suspended operations. However, foreign carriers are limited to ferry flights inbound to repatriate foreign nationals to their home countries.
It is most probable that those islands directly impacted by Hurricane Dorian in September 2019 will be faced with even greater challenges following COVID-19, including labour and employment issues, claims for unemployment and financial assistance to aid in the overall recovery of the aviation industry.
On 3 April 2020 the International Civil Aviation Organisation published an economic impact (Q1 and
Q2 2020) analysis due to COVID-19 on scheduled international passenger traffic. The analysis also discusses the impact on airports and tourism.
The Bahamas' number one industry is tourism and as an island nation it is entirely reliant on air and sea transport for its visitors. Therefore, COVID-19 will no doubt have a massive impact on two of the country's key sectors.