Three Bahamasair Aircraft Blocked From Entering American Airspace

Photo by Joseph Scavella.

Three of Bahamasair’s planes have been blocked from entering the United States because they lack surveillance technology demanded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that should have been done by January 1, 2020.

As a result, the flag carrier of The Bahamas cannot fly three of its four aircraft into American airspace and may not solve the problem until March 2020. The FAA mandated in 2010 that aircraft be equipped with hardware to use the FAA’s more sophisticated satellite based air traffic control management system, NextGen, that replaces traditional ground radar technology. This transition requires aircraft to have Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B) capability either at time of manufacture or retrofitted with a kit.

According to Bahamasair Chairman Tommy Turnquest, it has been difficult for Bahamasair to secure necessary kits for the company’s three 737-500 planes, an older generation of Boeing jets. The company signed a contract in June 2019 for a supplier to deliver three kits in September, October and November of the same year but the supplier reneged on its responsibilities after having been paid $200,000 of a total $600,000. Mr Turnquest said that “The supplier indicated they are unable to provide the kits before March 2020 and that is not acceptable to us.” He further added that every effort would be made to recoup the money already paid.

Explaining the reason behind the delayed compliance with the FAA's directive, Mr. Turnquest said "This issue first came up in 2010 but very few aircraft took advantage because within ten years you’re not sure what your fleet would be. In 2018 efforts began to outfit these various aircraft. When Bahamasair purchased five ATRs back in 2016 navigational kits were not put in place but were accessed over the past two years.” The airline is however eyeing a deal with a new supplier that indicated it could provide the kits within three weeks for about $195,000 for each plane once an order is placed.

Bahamasair has nine planes: five ATRs, including two ATR 72-600 and three ATR 42-600, three 737-500 planes that can carry 120 people each, and one 138-seater 737-700 plane; with one of the 737-500 planes soon scheduled to be out of commission for a maintenance check/C-check in Costa Rica that is expected to last about 75 days.

The FAA’s prohibition of aircraft not equipped with ADS-B does not reflect the FAA determining the aircraft or airline to be unsafe. Turnquest said the 737-500s being taken off US routes will instead fly intra-island services and flights to Cuba, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands while the remaining 737-700 and ATR aircraft will operate U.S routes. The airline may have trouble transporting passengers this weekend especially since the New Years travel period is ending and other commitments made may result in a wet lease agreement with the likes of Miami Air International. However, the airline does not anticipate serious delays or disruption to its services.

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