It’s what we do. Bahamians go to the charter section of our airports. Purported pilots are there with small planes. You say where you want to go. They say how many seats they have, and how much they cost.
When the so-called pilot has enough people to make his trip profitable, he takes off and leaves.
The people who get on the plane often do not know the pilot they are flying with. They do not know if the plane was inspected and passed safety standards.
What we allow is dangerous and can lead to loss of life.
A small plane crashed in shallow waters near Mastic Point, Andros, killing six people last Wednesday.
Delvin Major, chief investigator of the Air Accident Investigation Department, confirmed on Monday that the plane’s pilot, Darren Clarke, was not licensed to operate commercial flights, nor did he have the required ratings to operate the Piper aircraft in visually impaired weather.
According to the registry of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Clarke held a private pilot license. He was limited to “airplane multi-engine visual flight rules (VFR) only”. This means Clarke was restricted from operating a multi-engine aircraft in weather which would have required him to rely on the instruments of the aircraft, confirmed Major.
According to Major, investigators are trying to determine if the passengers paid to be transported to New Providence. A private pilot is not supposed to carry paying customers.
Although the cause of the crash has not been officially determined, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar has pledged stronger oversight of the aviation sector, and to clamp down on air hackers.
“It is my position that if you are not legally licensed to transport passengers for commercial gain, then you shouldn’t be in that business,” he said.
“The mere fact that you are using that word ‘hackers’ means there is a flagrant disregard for that rule, and we need to review how we police that.
“Every time that I bring up the issue of how are we policing it and why haven’t we been more forceful in ensuring that people have the right licenses to engage in the business that they are in, I’ve been told that there [hasn’t] been a political will.”
We hope the minister is serious about enforcement. Lack of enforcement is a chronic problem in The Bahamas.
The aviation regulator needs the money, staff and resources to carry out its mandate. It also needs strong independent leadership. There should be no political interference preventing the agency and its officers from acting to protect the public.
We know where the air hackers operate. These unauthorized “businesses” should be shut down and those who break the rules punished.
Bahamian passengers must change their behavior, too. It is irresponsible and dangerous to get in a plane with a pilot whose credentials you are unsure of. It is reckless and unconscionable to take minors on such a journey with you. As a people we need to commit to using regulated airlines. Trying to save a few bucks with hackers could cost you your life.
We hope the government is serious about better oversight of the aviation sector. We’ve heard tough talk before. Change will only come if there is follow through and commitment to fix the problem.