A Guide to Business Aviation Operations to the Caribbean (Just in time for the busy holiday season)
The Caribbean encompasses 30 territories – including sovereign states, overseas territories, and dependencies. Of the 700 islands, reefs, and cays in this region, a couple of dozen destinations are always popular with the business aviation community. During peak travel season each year – generally November to April – the islands experience a heavy influx of general aviation (GA) flights. Moreover, this coming weekend in particular is typically one of the busiest weeks for business aircraft movements in the area, as passengers flock to their favorite island(s) for the Christmas holiday. As with any busy period, you can expect that availability of aircraft parking, services, and local accommodations can be particularly challenging to arrange during this time of year.
If planning an upcoming mission to the Caribbean, the following is an overview of what you need to know:
1. Airports at capacity
Many popular airports in the Caribbean run at close to full capacity during the winter (between Thanksgiving and Easter) – particularly during the last week of December and the Spring Break period. Some of these high demand destinations include St Maarten (TNCM), Providenciales (MBPV), Nassau (MYNN), St Thomas (TIST), San Juan (TJSJ), Barbados (TBPB) and Antigua (TAPA). Many popular Caribbean destination airports are small with shorter runways and do not operate 24 hrs. Nevis (TKPN) and Castries (TLPC) are examples of desirable smaller airports with shorter runways (3996 and 5735 feet respectively), limited aircraft parking, and prior permission required (PPR) requirements.
2. Landing and overflight permits
Private non-revenue flights do not, in most cases, require landing permits for this region. Charter (non-scheduled commercial) operations, however, generally do require permits. Landing permit and documentation requirements vary by country.
Overflight permits are not needed within this region, with the exception of Cuba and when traversing through the Central America region to your Caribbean destination. Be advised that Central American overflights will require a CEMAMER permit.
For more on overflying Cuba, see our article Understanding Cuban Overflight Permits.
3. Charter landing permit requirements
Documentation requirements for charter permits include certificates of airworthiness and registration, worldwide insurance, crew licenses/medicals, operational specifications, and an air operator’s certificate (AOC). Note that at some locations – including Port of Spain (TTPP) – documentation must be submitted for the landing permit and presented on arrival.
4. Charter landing permit lead times
Permit lead times differ considerably, and some Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAs) strictly enforce official lead time mandates. For charter operations to French territories, including the island of Martinique, you’ll also need to complete a French Operating Questionnaire. Note that both the Bahamas and Jamaica require charter operators to submit special applications with landing permit requests. These applications include information on the operator and the flight, as well as the ground handler you’ll be using. Note that some of these countries, including Barbados and the Bahamas, offer annual landing permits. This gives charter operators the right to make multiple trips without having to apply for a permit each time. Speak to your 3rd-party provider to determine if your destination offers these permits.
5. PPR requirements
Approval for aircraft parking is a requirement at many locations, and you may or may not need a PPR. If a PPR is needed, the confirmation number must be noted in remarks section 18 of your flight plan.
6. Pilot age limitations
Some locations in the region – particularly French territories – require the pilot in command of a charter flight be under the age of 60 and the second in command not be over the age of 65.
7. Tech stops
While there are many good tech stop options within this region, depending on where you are flying to/from, some of the popular options include TJSJ, TBPB, MYNN, Grand Cayman (MWCR), and TAPA.
8. Airport curfews and delays
Always be mindful of airport curfews and closure times. While some airports are open 24 hours, many close early – some at sunset. Airport overtime may be an option at specific locations, but it’s at airport authority discretion to approve/disapprove. Expect delays at popular Caribbean locations during high season, due to traffic volumes, so it’s best to have an airport alternate available. Sometimes the closest alternate is not the best choice as it may be experiencing the same parking/congestion issues. Always confirm that your alternate has the services, local transport, and crew accommodations available to handle your needs.
9. Arranging ground services and aircraft parking
When planning a peak season trip to the Caribbean it’s best to request parking and ground handling requirements as early as possible. Many operators request parking for the winter season no later than early September. Short notice requests can be an issue as many popular airports have limited aircraft parking and routinely decline last minute parking requests. If you have a short notice trip to the Caribbean during high season it’s important to always have a backup plan that allows you to reposition your aircraft for parking.
10. Aviation fuel shortages and tips
Aviation fuel shortages and outages occur each year at assorted Caribbean destinations. And, there are cases where these fuel issues happen without advance warning. St Maarten (TNCM) periodically runs out of fuel due to high demand, and other island locations occasionally ration fuel uplift volumes. You may encounter a situation where you’re only able to uplift a limited quantity of fuel and then need to reposition your aircraft to uplift additional fuel. Fuel issues have occurred at St Lucia Hewanorra (TLPL), TNCM, and MBPV as a result of fuel barges delayed by weather. Best practice is to always confirm fuel volume availability, in advance, and/or to tanker in fuel. Keep in mind that in cases of fuel shortages, scheduled commercial airlines receive priority in the Caribbean.
11. CIQ and U.S. pre-clearance considerations
Particularly when operating to non-24 hour smaller locations in the Caribbean it’s important to confirm customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ) availability and overtime options. When returning to the U.S. be aware of U.S. Customs pre-clearance options available at Aruba (TNCA), TIST, and St Croix (TISX). TNCA offers the option of full pre-clearance into the U.S., and once this clearance has been completed, you may fly to any of the approved stateside airports, which are on the approved list based on their ability to handle and process international garbage. The U.S. Virgin Islands, on the other hand, offers only a partial pre-clearance, and you must fly to an airport of entry (AOE), with customs available on the field. Note that advance reservations are necessary to take advantage of CBP pre-clearance options at TNCA, TIST, and TISX. It’s always best to speak with your 3rd-party provider to confirm pre-clearance options, requirements, and advance notification mandates.
For more on preclearing in Aruba, read our article UPDATE: Aruba Pre-Clearance – Now a Reality for General Aviation.
12. CARICOM APIS
If you’re traveling to/from any CARICOM member country – and there are now 15 of them – you’ll need to file CARICOM APIS for each arrival and departure. CARICOM APIS is submitted online via a special website and it’s recommended that this be submitted 24 hours prior to operation. Data requirements are similar to U.S. APIS. For each passenger/crew you will need to provide full name, passport number and expiration date, date of birth, and nationality. Unlike U.S. APIS no address is needed for passengers/crew.
13. Hotels and local transportation
During peak season demand for preferred hotels runs very high, and crew accommodations should be confirmed as far in advanced as possible. Hotel prices increase during this time of year, and non-refundable deposits are usually the norm. The same is true for local transport arrangements. If you’re planning to rent vehicles or utilize prepaid transport (car with driver), this must be arranged as far in advance as possible to maximize your options.
14. Visa requirements
Some nationalities require visas to travel to Caribbean destinations. In most cases these visas cannot be obtained upon arrival. Therefore, it’s important to confirm all applicable visa requirements and to obtain required visas prior to day of operation.
15. Additional Reading
- Business Aviation Trip Planning: The Bahamas
- Business Aviation Trip Planning: San Juan, Puerto Rico (TJSJ)
- Exploring Jamaica – Information for Bizav Operations
- Operating to St Maarten (TNCM) – Top Operator Considerations
- Business Aviation Trip Planning: Barbados
If you have any questions or would like assistance planning your next trip to the Caribbean, contact me at email@example.com.