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Under international laws and conventions countries require airlines and other aircraft to pay a fee for the right to overfly their airspace.  The administration of these rights has been performed by the United States Government via the Federal Aviation Agency (“FAA”).  Notwithstanding our Independence in 1973 Bahamasair and other carriers in The Bahamas have continued to pay the FAA for the right to fly within The Bahamas.  The revenues earned to this point for all aircraft overflying The Bahamas airspace have been retained by the FAA.

The Government of The Bahamas could have continued to accept the foregoing arrangements with the FAA as has been the case in our history, but the Minister of Transport & Aviation acting in the national interest instituted discussions with our friends and neighbour, the Government of the United States of America toward securing meaningful internationally accepted arrangements for the management and control of the Bahamas airspace.

I am pleased to announce The Bahamas Government has reached a landmark and historic agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States of America, which will result in the exemption of Bahamian aircraft operators from payment of overflight fees to the FAA on flights which take off and land in The Bahamas. It is of interest to note that Bahamasair in the last 3 years alone has paid overflight fees in excess of $1million.

This exemption, which is expected to take effect in the very near future, will translate into significant savings for local aircraft operators, including Bahamasair.

The effect of the exemption will also generally enhance the local aviation sector in The Bahamas.

This achievement is an outcome of a series of negotiations between the US government, represented by the FAA, and representatives of the Bahamian government, relating to the management and control of the upper levels of the Bahamas’ airspace. These discussions began in earnest with the first round of talks held in Nassau in 2014, followed by several rounds in the United States, with the latest meeting taking place in Miami from December 15th to 16th.

Considerable progress is now being made on proposed new arrangements for the management of our airspace, including plans to approach the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for formal recognition of an expanded Bahamian FIR, which would have economic benefit to The Bahamas and will be in the mutual interests of both countries with respect to aviation safety and security.

Although The Bahamas gained sovereignty over its geographical airspace when it gained Independence in 1973, the FAA has continued to manage and control this airspace as part of its Flight Information Region (“FIR”), under arrangements which predate our nation’s independence.

It is expected that a final agreement will be soon reached to govern the terms and conditions of the FAA’s management of Bahamian airspace, initially for a period of 10 years. It is expected the agreement will provide for the first time for the collection of overflight fees by The Bahamas, from aircraft transiting Bahamian airspace. The FAA will be paid for providing air traffic management services during this period.

The overflight fees will be set by the Bahamas Government and collected from transiting aircraft in accordance with the economic guidelines issued by ICAO. It is also anticipated that the agreement will include technical assistance and training for The Bahamas, as it seeks to further develop its air traffic management capacity and enhance the aviation sector in general.

As indicated an important aspect of these discussions is the steps now underway by The Bahamas Government for the formal recognition by ICAO and neighbouring states of an expanded FIR largely corresponding to our maritime borders. The FAA has indicated an intention to work together with The Bahamas in this important endeavour.

The Bahamas has been represented in these talks by a cross-section of Bahamian professionals, comprising Sir Baltron Bethel, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of the Prime Minister, Mr Charles Albury, Under Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, Mr Loren Klein, Consultant, Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, Mr Keith Major, Acting Director of Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority, Mr Patrick Rolle, Consultant, Ministry of Transport and Aviation, assisted by Mr Deepak Bhatnagar, Executive Director, Board of Directors, Bahamas Power and Light, and representatives from the Bahamas’ missions in Washington and Miami.

The Ministerial efforts have been undertaken under the direction and guidance of the Honourable Glenys Hanna Martin, Minister of Transport and Aviation.

These developments represent a significant achievement and advancement in the affairs of the Bahamian people with respect to the management of its sovereign airspace, which heretofore had not been accomplished by previous administrations.