Top In-Season Caribbean Destinations for Business Aircraft Operators – Part 1: Operating Considerations
This business aviation blog post is part of a series on top destinations in the Caribbean.
1. High season period for the Caribbean
High season for Caribbean island destinations extends from mid-November through early April, with the peak travel period between U.S. Thanksgiving in November and mid-January.
2. Top island destinations
Top five destinations in the Caribbean, during high season, are usually St. Maarten (TNCM), Nassau (MYNN), Exuma (MYEF), Grand Cayman (MWCR), and Anguilla (TQPF). All of these locations are airports of entry, with customs and fuel availability in place and differing capacities in terms of aircraft parking. Only MYNN operates 24 hours, but the other airfields have overtime available with at least 24 hours’ prior notice.
3. Peak operating hours
Other than MYEF, all of these Caribbean destinations have peak operating hours to consider. Peak hours to avoid are 1100-1300 local at MWCR, 1100-1600 local at MYNN, 1200-1900 local at TQPF, and 1200-1700 local at TNCM.
4. Aircraft parking challenges
During peak season aircraft parking becomes a critical consideration when operating to many island destinations. Both TNCM and MWCR require a prior permission required, which should be requested at least a month in advance. Short-notice aircraft parking requests are often difficult to obtain during peak season. Many operators make a habit of requesting parking months in advance of the high season. If you’re unable to confirm aircraft parking, you’ll usually have the option to drop and go, but there may be delays, depending on airport congestion. There will be times where you’ll have to hold, or you’ll be diverted to an alternate, if there’s too much ground congestion. In some cases, turnaround times may be restricted to two-three hours.
5. Specifics on aircraft parking limitations
TNCM routinely runs out of aircraft parking during high season. If you’ve not secured aircraft parking in advance, you’ll likely be faced with a drop-and-go scenario. TQPF is a smaller airport and tends to run out of parking quickly. Note that Antigua (TAPA) and San Juan (TJSJ) can fill up with overflow parking as other locations in the region reach parking capacity. But you’ll always find an airport within the region to reposition to. Barbados (TBPB) for example seldom reaches aircraft parking capacity. Some operators, particularly when dropping off in the Bahamas, choose to reposition stateside.
6. Hotel considerations
When you plan peak-season operations to the Caribbean, it’s critical that both hotel accommodations and local transport be considered as far in advance as possible. Some operators request hotel rooms as early as September for peak-season operations. It’s important to check your options as some hotels may not release rooms until October. Note that many hotels require full non-refundable prepayment during peak periods. Crew rooms can cost 300-500USD per night during high season. Best practice is to hold off on booking crew accommodations until aircraft parking has been confirmed.
7. Local transport considerations
Local transport options are often limited, and best available options will go to those who plan and book ahead. Rental car selections may be limited or nonexistent on many islands. (For example, you may not get the SUV your clients desire.) Quality of public taxis varies widely throughout the region. It’s best to request a "new taxi" to ensure you have the best possible transport outcome.
8. Aviation fuel shortages
Fuel issues occur every year on the islands, and you may find that fuel may be unavailable or restricted in quantity on short notice. It’s best to secure fuel quotes in advance and reconfirm fuel uplifts the day before fueling. Many operators take the precaution of tankering fuel and/or fueling on arrival to avoid unexpected delays or other issues day of departure. Always have enough fuel onboard to be able to depart to an alternate fuel location. Major aviation credit cards are accepted throughout the region. Some operators, however, choose to carry fuel releases to help ensure best fuel uplift options.
9. Additional considerations
Some smaller island destinations may require additional advance notification in order to set up fuel and services. Many smaller island airports – such as Nevis (TKPN) and St. Lucia George FL Charles (TLPC) – have very limited aircraft parking, so you may need to reposition your aircraft. Aircraft catering is not usually an issue in this region; however, at certain locations, you’ll need to source catering from local hotels. It’s best to coordinate catering with your ground handler.
It’s recommended to request aircraft parking as soon as schedule is known and hold off on booking high-season hotel accommodations until parking is confirmed. As fuel shortages occur on the islands from time to time – especially during peak travel periods – it’s always best to pre-arrange fuel uplifts and specify volumes required.
If you have any questions about this article or about operating to the Caribbean, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which covers customs, immigration, permits, and curfews for your travel to the Caribbean.