Monday, July 15, 2013

Ambassadors axe Grand Bahama flights

The Bahamas Flying Ambassadors have axed all flights to Grand Bahama and other islands in the country due to the recent increase of Customs-related taxes.

Anthony Restaino, state president of Florida Aero Club and the Ambassadors, made the announcement yesterday and said pilots of both private aircraft clubs are "disgusted" with the increase.

The fees include a $75 charge for arrival and departure, totaling $150, and a Customs service charge for planes arriving after 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. on any given day.

It has also been reported that commercial aircraft with seating capacity of less than 30 will be charged $50 per hour; airliners with seating between 31-70 will face a $100 hourly charge and those with 71 seats or more will foot a charge of $200 an hour.

According to Restaino, the increase will greatly undermine any progress Tourism Minister Obediah Wilchcombe and his ministry have made in increasing airlift to The Bahamas.

Grand Bahama, which has desperately sought to climb out of an economic hole created by the worldwide recession, is expected to be significantly impacted by the Bahamas Flying Ambassadors decision, as club members have been frequent visitors to the island.

Restaino said, "It's like a person is asked to dine at a popular restaurant but is charged a fee to drive there. Apart from that, those dining are made to pay a cover charge to enter the establishment in addition to fees for service, and finally being charged to leave the restaurant, which is ridiculous!

"These fees are stopping the tourists from coming to The Bahamas and spending their money, and I see it as the government being greedy.

"This taxation has caused both commercial airlines and private aircraft owners to re-evaluate the decision to come to The Bahamas and that in itself should cause The Bahamas government to take a step back and look at how Budget's fees will impact the tourism industry and visitor arrivals to the country.

"Again, this is the most foolish decision the government has made," said Restaino.

The 35-year visitor to The Bahamas said he is saddened by the fact that he will no longer be able to come to the country or encourage his friends and aero club members to explore the beauty of the island and experience the warmth of its people as a result of these "unnecessary," "astronomical" fees.

On June 21, Restaino brought a group of 32 persons and 11 airplanes to Grand Bahama, many of whom had never visited the island or flown their private aircraft over a body of water larger than Lake Okeechobee.

While here the group were given the royal treatment by the Ministry of Tourism along with the staff of the Wyndham Viva Fortuna Resort and revealed they could not wait to return and invite more friends, family and aero club members.

Concern has also been expressed by major commercial airlines such as JetBlue, Delta and American Airlines who have threatened to permanently suspend their airlift to The Bahamas, due in part to Customs' one percent administrative processing fee, which reportedly will be added to brakes, tires and other aircraft parts imported to the country for repairs.

The fee, which replaces the previous $10 Stamp Duty Levy will now cost a maximum $500 per import and this has resulted in an Internet petition on the website being created to urge Prime Minister Perry Christie and tourism officials to repeal the new processing fee for general aviation.

In a recent interview Mr. Wilchcombe said, "If they (commercial airlines/private aircraft owners) are informing us that the increase affects them negatively and could cause them to pull out of servicing The Bahamas, then certainly we would have to sit down and talk with them and see what their concerns are.

"Over the last two years, our airlift was down and we now have to work hard to bring the number up.

"While we did announce that there would be a processing fee I don't think that there was a real understanding by the operators.

"But with a threat as real as this one, we cannot afford it and we will have to consider what their concerns are on the matter."


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