Govt seeking to sign 28 new air services agreements in 2020

The government of The Bahamas is seeking to have at least 28 new air services agreements (ASA) signed within the next year to be enacted, as it looks to develop Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) into an international hub, Bahamas Civil Aviation Manager of Safety Oversight and Technical Negotiator Julia Brathwaite-Rolle confirmed yesterday.

She highlighted that these agreements can translate into earnings for Bahamians and the government. Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar said the agreements are to ensure that The Bahamas is ready to receive increased airlift when the international carriers are ready to fly.

“The benefits not only affect aviation; everyone that’s coming here, that’s a person who’s staying in a hotel, that’s a person who’s coming to the airport — that’s a fee,” said Brathwaite-Rolle.

“That’s a job for a driver; a sale for someone in the store; a sale in the restaurant.

“That’s how wide-stretched the benefits of this agreement can work for the state and why it’s so supported.”

A delegation of four officials including Brathwaite-Rolle, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General Charles Beneby, Bahamas High Commissioner to Canada Alvin Smith and a representative from the Office of the Attorney General, traveled to Aqaba, Jordan last week to attend the fifth annual International Civil Aviation Organization Air Services Negotiation Conference (ICAN), where they signed memoranda of understanding (MOU) with eight countries and “agreed minutes” with two.

Brathwaite-Rolle continued: “A lot of Bahamians who have companies think that they can only operate within The Bahamas, so with these air service agreements it now opens it up for you to go and operate in someone else’s country.

“You can actually create code shares. Say the person wants to come to The Bahamas and the size of the aircraft is too big to get into the Family Islands, they can now code share and do partnerships with other airlines.

“So the first airline from The Bahamas to take advantage of this is, we just did a designation for Western Air with Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. So they’re looking now to start servicing Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.”

Yesterday, D’Aguilar said, “We’re really interested in these air services agreements to attract foreign-flagged aircraft to travel to our country to bring either cargo or passengers. And we want to develop the regime under which they would be able to easily do that.

“And what happens is when you convene all of the countries in one place, you can efficiently negotiate with each country instead of having to fly to each one of these countries individually,” he continued, in reference to ICAN.

“Once these agreements are signed, one hopes that this then translates into either commercial aircraft, cargo or passengers, coming to our jurisdiction because all of the terms and conditions have been negotiated so when they’re ready to fly, we’re ready to receive.”

He explained that the reason there can be a wait between the signing of the MOU and that of the finalized ASA is that for some countries, there is a process involved in getting the necessary approvals.

“In many instances, you commence negotiations in one year and complete them in the following year, because many countries have to go back and consult or get permission from either their Parliament or their regulatory bodies or whatever,” he said yesterday.

“You don’t want to be waiting years and years and years before it gets on the agenda in those countries, so you develop a memorandum of understanding, which kind of lays out in an MOU the terms and conditions of the final agreement.

“Obviously, it’s not the agreement because the agreement has to be signed and sealed by representatives of one country or the other, so the MOU is kind of the interim step to get the ball rolling.”

Brathwaite-Rolle elaborated: “We have already concluded a total of 22 ASAs that we’ve already signed, in total.

“We have another 28 of those in MOUs that now will be finalized to sign over a period of time, because some countries it takes a while for them, for their approval process.”

She said the expectation is that those countries that recently signed MOUs will sign the finalized agreements “at another ICAN or another ICAO meeting to bring it into force”.

The ICAN meeting usually occurs in the first week of December, she said.

However, a finalized agreement between The Bahamas and Morocco could take place as soon as next month.

“In the case of Morocco, we signed an agreed in minutes because Morocco has indicated to us that they’re looking to sign in January,” Brathwaite-Rolle continued.

“So we either will be doing the signing [of the final ASA] in Morocco or we’ll be doing it here in The Bahamas.”

She added, “You have countries that are already looking at starting. But of course you know they do their market research to put things in place first.

“Code shares have already started going in, because we’re now trying to make [LPIA] a hub.

“A lot of persons don’t like to go to the United States, you know. Persons like to be able to come into a location, they can do their pre-clearance here, this is the advantage of The Bahamas.”

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