07 Aug 2020
The Bahamas' flight information region airspace is one of the largest after the North Atlantic Organised Track System. It comprises tens of thousands of miles and is subject to significant overflight activity. Moreover, it is one of the most important airspaces and is worth millions of dollars in revenue. A portion of this airspace has been managed by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since 1952 – an agreement which was made at an International Civil Aviation Organisation special meeting in Cuba. The Bahamas has always maintained that its airspace is and always has been sovereign.
The FAA manages approximately 75% of The Bahamas' airspace, which extends from less than 100 miles off the east coast of Florida to Inagua Island, the most southern island in The Bahamas archipelago; this is designated as the Miami Oceanic airspace. Notably, Lynden Pindling International Airport, The Bahamas' largest airport, is managed by Bahamian air traffic controllers. The remaining 25% of the airspace is managed by Cuba.
In 1975, two years after gaining independence, the government agreed to continue the FAA's management and control of its airspace – an arrangement which continues today. The FAA controls flights on routes between the United States and The Bahamas, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Europe.
In 1996 the Federal Aviation Reauthorisation Act allowed the FAA to charge overflight fees to aircraft operators flying in US-controlled airspace that do not land in or depart from the United States. Subsequently, in 2000 the US Congress authorised the FAA to extend its charge of overflight fees to carriers for flights that operate within airspace delegated to the FAA for the management and control of high altitude en-route traffic control (ie, The Bahamas' airspace).
In 2009 Bahamian and foreign carriers became subject to these overflight fees, despite the fact that they were operating within sovereign Bahamian airspace. In 2017 the Bahamian government successfully negotiated an exemption from these fees for Bahamian operators that take off and land within The Bahamas.
It has been reported that between 2006 and 2017 the FAA collected more than $851 million in overflight fees, of which The Bahamas received nothing. In fact, the US Congressional Budget Office has estimated that in 2016 alone, the FAA collected $117 million.
In May 2018 the Bahamian government reopened negotiations with the US government regarding the management and control of The Bahamas' sovereign airspace so that The Bahamas could collect fees like many other countries.
In November 2018 the Bahamian government issued a request for proposal for the creation of "a self-funded and sustainable management" programme for its sovereign airspace in order to collect the overflight fees. The proposal was driven by the government's desire to further enhance the civil aviation sector, including the revenue derived therefrom, and its overall contribution to the country's gross domestic product. It is intended that The Bahamas will collect overflight fees that are long overdue to it, while paying the FAA a fee for the management of its airspace. Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D'Aguilar has stated that talks with the FAA continue and are progressing well.
Llewellyn V Boyer- Cartwright