Air Navigation Services Agreement ends ‘decades’ of talks

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US Embassy Charge d'Affaires Usha Pitts and Minister of Tourism and Aviation the Hon. Dionisio D'Aguilar are pictured at the signing ceremony for the historic Air Navigation Services Agreement between the newly- created Bahamas Air Navigation Services Authority and the United States Federal Aviation Administration, May 5, 2021 at the Cabinet Office. (BIS Photo/Patrick Hanna)

Officials of the newly-created Bahamas Air Navigation Services Authority and the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Wednesday (May 5, 2021) concluded the ceremonial signing of a historic Air Navigation Services Agreement between the two entities.

Minister of Tourism and Aviation, the Hon. Dionisio D’Aguilar, said the Agreement allows the Minnis Administration to correct a “construct that left The Bahamas totally out of the loop as it relates to the management and fee collection for the use of its sovereign airspace.” The Signing means that (commencing May 1, 2021) aircraft landing in, and departing out of the sovereign airspace of The Bahamas; aircraft flying solely within the airspace of The Bahamas, and aircraft flying over the sovereign airspace of The Bahamas, will – for the very first time – pay fees for the use of its airspace to an entity owned and operated by the
Government of The Bahamas.

Officials said the signing concluded “decades upon decades’ of talks between The Bahamas and the United States about the management of the sovereign airspace of The Bahamas.

“Today, the Bahamas will assume – for the very first time – the management of its sovereign airspace,” Minister D’Aguilar said at the Signing which was attended by senior government officials from The Bahamas, senior officials from the United States Embassy, Nassau, and representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

“Commencing May 1, 2021, aircraft landing in and departing out of the sovereign airspace of The Bahamas, aircraft flying solely within the sovereign airspace o The Bahamas, and aircraft flying over the sovereign airspace of The Bahamas will start, for the very first time, to pay fees to an entity solely owned and operated by the Government of The Bahamas.

“For that reason, this air navigation services management agreement is historic. Never before in the history of an independent Bahamas has anyone paid anything to the Government of The Bahamas for the use of its airspace. Today, that changes,” Minister D’Aguilar added. The Tourism and Aviation Minister said achieving the “historic milestone” was not easy. He said almost 70 years ago, Great Britain, the United States and Cuba gathered in Havana where it was decided that the provision of air navigation services over what is now the sovereign airspace of The Bahamas (The Bahamas was a colony of Great Britain at the time), would be divided between the FAA (United States) and its equivalent (ECNA) from Cuba.

He said the FAA was assigned the greatest portion of Bahamian sovereign airspace (approximately 75 per cent) in which to provide air navigation services, while the Cubans were assigned the remaining 25 per cent. “The Bahamas was assigned nothing other than a small area around Nassau only up to 6,000 feet.” Minister D’Aguilar said.

Mr. D’Aguilar said aircraft using the sovereign airspace of The Bahamas paid fees directly to the FAA and the Cubans, and that: “once again, The Bahamas received not one red cent from this arrangement.”

“In the minds of most, right-thinking Bahamians, this arrangement was unacceptable and, since assuming office in May, 2017, this Minnis Administration, this Minister of Aviation, made it an absolute priority to conclude an Agreement, like the one today, to correct the construct that left The Bahamas totally out of the loop as it relates to the management and fee collection for the use of its sovereign airspace.”

Minister D’Aguilar said the process wasn’t easy. “And I must say everyone was extremely skeptical that after many stops
and starts, we would ever reach this point today.” Mr. D’Aguilar said all air space user fees collected by the Government, can
only be used to fund the costs of managing and operating the civil aviation system in The Bahamas – a cost, he said, that prior to the Agreement was funded solely by the taxpayers of The Bahamas.

“Funds collected from airspace users cannot be deposited into the Consolidated Fund and used for purposes other than providing a safe and well-managed aviation sector. Finally, all fees charged must, according to the United Nations Convention on Civil Aviation, Article 15, be non- discriminatory, that is, all Carriers will pay the same fee irrespective of their nationality. We could not, for example, charge one fee for Bahamian Carriers and another fee for non-Bahamian Carriers,” Mr. D’Aguilar added.

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