Owning what should be ours
I read with much interest the June 4 2018 Tribune Editorial “Birdie thanks God for Hanna Martin and the PLP”. I congratulate Robert Carron on the research he carried out, which is good and informative.
When I served as minister of transport and communication between 1995 and 1997,I attended a meeting sponsored by either the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) at the Hyatt hotel, in Miami, Florida. In discussion with regional ministers responsible for aviation, I discovered for the first time that The Bahamas was the only independent nation in the Western Hemisphere which did not control its airspace. Being a nationalist, I found this difficult to understand or accept.
Upon returning to Nassau, I raised the issue with the Civil Aviation Department and in Cabinet. The leadership in Cabinet was of the view that The Bahamas did not have the financial capacity, which, if I recall correctly, was then pegged at around $64,000,000, or the technical capacity to monitor and control the Bahamas Sovereign Air space to meet International standards. This was a disappointment, however in or about 2002 or 2003, while sitting in the smokers’ room in Parliament, Glenys Hanna-Martin, another nationalist and the then minister responsible for aviation, asked me for some tips to assist her in developing her ministry. I suggested to her that she try and have the Civil Aviation Department take control of The Bahamas Sovereign Airspace, and to Hanna’s credit, she did pursue it. About a year or so later, I read in the press that negotiations were ongoing and they were talking millions of dollars.
I admit that, at that time, while I believe it had some value, I did not even dream that it had the potential or value I now believe it has. I just thought that, as an independent country, The Bahamas should control its airspace.
Fast forward to 2013-2014, when I, Steve Varga and others were discussing ways and means of turning The Bahamas economy around by the imposition of exogenous taxes on users of our waterways, airspace and other facilities like trademarks registration, etc. One person in the group, who wished to remain anonymous pointed out that The Bahamas could substantially improve its economy and reduce its debt if it took control of its airspace and sea lanes and legislated the appropriate legislation and regulations.
After a research and study of some AIR NAV Systems around the world, in particular the British and Canadian systems, International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the ICAO, I wrote a letter to former Prime Minister Perry Christie. I enclosed with the letter the proposal, and the proposal was referred to Minister of Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin. Steve Varga and I had several meetings with the minister, her permanent secretary and other civil aviation officials. Promises were made, but they did not deliver, and I subsequently read in the press that negotiations were again ongoing with the FAA.
In late 2015, I gave the same letter and proposal to Dr. Hubert Minnis, the then leader of the opposition, and he agreed to deal with it after the election.
Since the election, Dionisio D’Aguilar, the new minister for aviation, has taken up the challenge. He seems to be making progress, but this service and management of it is very technical and requires a focused study and knowledge of how the system and service should function, preferably by Bahamians.
The appropriate legislation and regulations should be enacted by The Bahamas to charge the appropriate fees, to provide the air sea rescue services, the health facilities, and the weather and radar services etc. to meet ICAO standards. Once the regulations are in place to charge the fees, all of these services can be project financed at no costs to the government.
The Bahamas should not settle for less than its full entitlement. When all the potential fees and charges are considered, this entitlement is conservatively valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Within five years, these services can be installed and paid for from the over flight and other fees charged for usage of our air space, sea lanes and other services.
It is my hope that the Tribune and the rest of the media will embark on a campaign to educate the Bahamian public to call for all Bahamians to assist in taking full control of our air space.
I believe The Bahamas will not regret it.
Like the British system, the Bahamas government should create public-private partnerships with shared ownerships and management and control vested in the private sector, similar to what is happening at Arawak Port Development Co. Ltd. Thousands of good-paying jobs will be created, and it will be a success that should not be delayed.
The time is now, and there should be no doubt that this government has the resolve and should act.
– Tennyson R.G. Wells