Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bahamas 101: Recipe For Paradise


Flying to the Bahamas is the stuff of dreams and is within the reach of nearly any pilot and aircraft


Basics

The islands of The Bahamas are arranged in 10 groups that comprise 10 extraordinary VFR-flying destinations that would take the rest of your flying life to explore fully.

There are 20 airports of entry (AOE) in the Bahamas and 55 general aviation airports overall, scattered among the islands, most of which are FAA approved.

Aside from Nassau, the other 54 airports are nontowered, with a CTAF frequency of 122.8 to announce intentions and position. An exception is Exuma International (MYEF), which uses 118.0 as their CTAF. All traffic patterns are to the left, with pattern altitude standardized at 1,000 feet AGL. VFR night flight is prohibited in The Bahamas. There's avgas available at nine airports, arranged so you're never more than 20 minutes from a fuel stop.

Most pilots don't realize that the closest island, Bimini, is only 50 nm from Miami. And if you think such proximity dilutes the island experience, you're wrong. Bimini is where Ernest Hemingway lived from 1935 to 1937 while he wrote To Have and Have Not, and where he did lots of fishing and drinking. Jimmy Buffet spends time in Bimini, and the pristine, turquoise beaches of the Bimini Sands Resort are the stuff of postcards.

The Bahamian government—recognizing how important private pilots are to the Islands' tourism-based economy—has made it easier to visit The Bahamas than any other country. For example, The Bahamas has created a special exemption that allows pilots to fly there without a 406 MHz ELT—something all other countries require. They publish a Bill of Rights for Pilots spelling out some of those concessions, and it is, in every sense, impressive.

The first step in any Bahamian adventure is learning the ropes of getting into and out of the islands. If it sounds confusing at first read, it's really not, and Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation (BMOTA) has created a program whereby you can talk directly to one of several "Flying Ambassadors" (see sidebar) to guide you through the process. The Ministry also publishes an excellent (and free) Private Pilot Guide at www.bahamas.com/bahamas/private-flying.




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