15 Jul 2021
After several decades of discussions between the governments of The Bahamas and US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the two countries have signed an air navigation services agreement (the agreement), thereby transferring the management of The Bahamas' sovereign airspace to The Bahamas for the first time. The long-awaited agreement took effect upon its signing on 1 May 2021. Prior to the agreement, the United States and Cuba managed and controlled The Bahamas' airspace (75% and 25% respectively) and the government of The Bahamas, with no formal agreement having been entered, received no compensation.
The agreement is for 10 years and may be renewed for a further 36 months should The Bahamas require it. Currently, The Bahamas does not have the facilities to provide air traffic control above 6,000 feet in its airspace. The agreement mandates the FAA to provide continued service on behalf of The Bahamas. Additionally, it will allow the FAA to monitor on behalf of The Bahamas its sovereign airspace; however, the FAA will not charge The Bahamas Air Navigation Services Authority (BANSA) a fee for continued air traffic services within a portion of the country's airspace. In turn, BANSA will pay the FAA a monthly fee to obtain data on aircraft flying through and over its airspace, including aircraft landing and departing; such data will include the airspace used in each month. BANSA will use the data for billing and the collection of fees for users. The fees will be charged on a sliding scale, based on the maximum takeoff weight of aircraft per 100 nautical miles.
The International Air Transport Association will collect the fees on behalf of The Bahamas, based on the fee calculated by BANSA, which in turn will then be paid to a company owned and operated by the government of The Bahamas. The fees collected are to be used strictly for the management and operations of the civil aviation sector and will not be paid in the government's consolidated fund.
Ultimately, it is intended that the fees collected (estimated at between $300 million and $350 million over the 10-year period) will be used to assist BANSA in expanding and improving its infrastructure in order that it may manage and control all of the Bahamas' sovereign airspace; this will include the upgrading and purchasing of new equipment, training and the hiring of new staff. Fees collected will also be used to assist the Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority.
By virtue of the Air Navigation Services Authority Act 2021, BANSA became a separate and semi-autonomous entity with the authority to charge for the services and facilities which it provides and impose penalties for the late payment of charges.
The agreement is no doubt a historical achievement for The Bahamas. For the first time, The Bahamas has management of its sovereign airspace. The almost 60-year "arrangement" with the FAA and Cuba was untenable and incompatible with the advancement of The Bahamas. As the industry emerges from the pandemic, perhaps the estimated fees will be realised.
Llewellyn V Boyer-Cartwright