Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Making Of The (LSA) Bahamas

How one professional LSA pilot found a way to make flying to the islands a breeze

The love bite of beguiling trade winds, the rolling slap of crystal, turquoise waters against varnished gunnels and a primal urge to explore magical places can become a sailor's undying passion.

So, it's the Bahamas, those magical isles and cays off the southeast coast of Florida, that bit Mike Zidziunas, and bit him good. Mike Z is the enterprising, successful LSA dealer and flight school owner who found a way—in the midst of a dreadful economy, no less—to combine his newest love, light-sport aviation, with one of his oldest: sailing.

His Breezer aircraft dealership and flight school, now at the Lakeland, Fla., regional airport (and site of the annual spring Sun 'n Fun air show), was humming along just fine. And, since central Florida isn't a long flight at all from the Bahamas, Mike Z had dreamed more than once of flying his German-built Breezer S-LSA over to the islands, where he had spent so many happy hours sailing his own boat.

There was one big obstacle though: no International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreement between the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and the U.S. government existed that allowed LSA to fly into the island nation. The 191-member state ICAO is charged with fostering and supporting the sustainable growth of air transport. FAA-certified GA aircraft have been flying to the Bahamas for decades, but LSA were viewed as an air horse of a different color.

"I love the Bahamas," says Zidziunas. "So, at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh in 2010, I decided it was time to get permission for LSA to fly over there. I went to the Federal Pavilion on the air show grounds and came across Greg Rolle, who just happened to be chief aviation specialist for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

"Greg had just announced on the air show radio broadcast a few minutes earlier that the government of the Bahamas was dropping all restrictions on both experimentally-built and light-sport aircraft, as long as they matched the applicable U.S. laws," Zidziunas recalls. "If we were licensed and legal to fly in the U.S., then you were legal to fly in the Bahamas—special permission was no longer needed.

"I was so thrilled, I was jumping around like a madman!" he remembers. "For me, it legitimized LSA. It made the Bahamas the first country to recognize the U.S. sport-pilot license, and we could now legally make that short hop over the water with minimal hassles.

"I flew home from Oshkosh and immediately started planning my first trip. I invited Dan Johnson to go and offered him a Breezer to fly. Jacob Peed of Aviators Hot Line also signed on," Zidziunas adds.

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