Stakeholders are calling for operational times at Grand Bahama International Airport (GBIA) to be extended by at least two hours.
Presently, operations at GBIA shut down at 6 p.m.
Grand Bahama News learned that if an airline or private aircraft operator submits a request for operations to extend beyond that time, an additional fee is charged.
“We have certainly requested on a number of occasions for the airport hours to be extended, and to return to pre-Hurricane Dorian time frames,” said Sherrexcia Rolle, vice president of operations and general counsel of Western Air.
Rolle said airport officials cited insufficient staffing as the reason for not being able to support extra hours at the airport at this time.
The 6 p.m. closing time was implemented when flights resumed following severe flooding at the facility during Hurricane Dorian, as airport services, and the electricity supply, had yet to be fully restored.
However, power has since been returned and, according to Rolle, passengers are asking for later flights.
“But we’re not able to accommodate that until the operational hours are extended,” she said.
“Otherwise, it would require us submitting after-hours requests. Sometimes we do. However, it is an additional charge to go beyond operational hours of the airport.”
Rolle said the topic came up again during Western Air’s Freeport to Fort Lauderdale scheduling discussions. And yet again, the airline was told it could not be accommodated due to the airport closing time.
“So, we’re still in the process of trying to sort that out,” she said.
“Ideally, it would be great if the airport opens later, once it can do so.”
Bahamian corporate pilot Mark Albury believes the airport’s closing time is stifling business and the island’s rebound.
“You can’t as a businessperson go into Nassau and put in a day’s work with the intent of catching a late flight back to Freeport and vice versa,” Albury said.
The latest incoming flights provided by Bahamasair and Western Air arrive at 5:30 p.m. Travelers are advised to be at the airport for 3 p.m. to clear security checks.
This means that travelers trying to come to Freeport, via Nassau flights, as direct flights to Grand Bahama are limited, often miss these times and must overnight in the capital.
“The big question is how are we supposed to build the economy and build Grand Bahama back? How do we accomplish that like this?” Albury asked.
Albury noted that operating hours at major airports in The Bahamas are from sunrise to sunset.
“Sunset, right now, in the summer months, happens at 8:20 p.m … domestically, and legally, you can fly between sunrise and sunset without any hindrance; but the airport, in the second biggest island in this country, closes at 6 p.m.,” he said.
“Realistically, if they run two eight-hour shifts, which would cover 16 hours, closing time can be moved to 8 p.m. Years ago, we were originally at midnight. Then, it switched from midnight to 10 p.m., and then we were at 8 p.m. for a little while.”
Albury feels that an extension of two hours would make a massive difference for the island.
Lyn Farrington, owner of LF’s Catering, said she wanted to purchase an excursion ticket to Nassau last week, but instead had to settle for spending extra to overnight.
“It was my intent to only spend the day, Thursday, in the capital, do some shopping for my business and fly right back to Freeport later that evening to prepare for a function the following day,” Farrington said.
“But because there are no flights later than 5 p.m., I had to overnight, and catch the first flight back. That cut into my prep time, and it was frustrating.”
She said airport officials must look at changing the time the airport closes.
“At this point, full power should have been restored to the airport to accommodate evening travel,” Farrington said.
State of airport
When contacted regarding extending operational hours at GBIA, Airport Authority Managing Director Peter Rutherford said, “Freeport Airport Development Company (FADC) is aggressively working towards increasing operational hours at GBIA in an effort to facilitate the safe travels of the flying public to and from the island.”
Rutherford said safety and security are priority for airport executives.
“It is incumbent on management to ensure that all the necessary aviation systems that are required to fully support night operations, particularly during severe weather, are in place,” he said.
Rutherford noted that as with all other airports in The Bahamas, except for LPIA, it is customary to close after sunset.
“However, as we do not seek to impede business travel to the island, the Freeport Airport [Development] Company has an established process in place, which is presently available to the flying public, which has been published on all aviation outlets to support after-hours service to the island,” he said.
“This process is currently utilized by the private pilot community, including, but not limited to, air ambulance services and commercial carriers such as Bahamasair and Western Airways daily at the airport.”
While Rutherford noted that management is working to improve services at GBIA, and return it to one of the premier airports in the region, he did not explain why hours at the airport have yet to return to pre-2019 schedules, and did not respond to requests for clarification.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Michael Pintard said there is a need for a greater sense of urgency in addressing GBIA’s transformation.
Pintard urged the government to lay out the macro plan for the redevelopment of the airport, inclusive of the domestic and international terminals, the private aircraft arrival area, along with facilities for both customs and immigration officials and other ancillary services.
The proposal, Pintard added, should include meetings with all stakeholders – Grand Bahama Port Authority, lease holders (airlift operators), tourism sector representatives and United States officials – for discussions relative to pre-clearance and security.
“Each step of the way, the public should be kept informed, and a mechanism should be put in place to benefit from public opinion,” Pintard stated.
In a statement over the weekend, Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation Chester Cooper accused Pintard and the former Minnis administration of failing Grand Bahama.
Cooper said he was shocked that Pintard has finally found his voice on the need for the island to have a proper airport.
“They let the airport languish for nearly two years before purchasing it and then did nothing up to the time they were voted out of office,” he said.
Since coming to office, Cooper said the Davis administration has begun remedial work at the airport, including ordering and installing generators, ordering modular offices for displaced workers, and elevators for the Control Tower, increasing airlift services, shortlisting public-private partnership proposals to three entities, and embarking on an aggressive plan to build a world-class airport by 2025.
“The Grand Bahama International Airport is in far better hands now than it was in during the last administration,” he said.