Caribbean island destinations tend to get busy between early November and late April each year. During peak season, particularly between U.S. Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and during Spring Break, general aviation (GA) movements to this region intensify significantly. During these peak periods parking, services, accommodations and fuel availability may be limited at times.
The following is an overview of what you need to know:
1. Popular destinations
There are a number of very popular destinations within the Caribbean region, including St. Maarten (TNCM), Georgetown (MWCR), Providenciales (MBPV), Bridgetown (Barbados) (TBPB), Anguilla (TQPF), Montego Bay (MKJS), Santo Domingo (MDSD), La Romana (MDLR), St Thomas (TIST) and San Juan (TJSJ). Destinations in the Bahamas, including Nassau (MYNN) and Exuma (MYEF), also tend to become busy during high season.
2. Permit requirements
Other than for operations to Cuba, landing and overflight permits are not generally required for private non-revenue operations. However, charter (non-scheduled commercial) landing permits are necessary for many Caribbean destinations and lead times vary. The Bahamas requires a fairly long lead time for charter permits while the Cayman Islands have an official lead time of 14 business days due to short staffing at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) office. Permit requests are often processed on short notice depending upon when the request is received and is at the discretion of CAA. Note that air ambulance flights operated by charter aircraft also fall under charter permit mandates, but permits can normally be obtained on short notice.
3. Territorial considerations
The islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique are both French territories, and requirements to operate to these locations are the same as operating to France. For charter operations no pilot may be over age 65 but a pilot aged 60-64 may fly as second in command (SIC). Additionally, charter operators must complete a Foreign Operator Questionnaire (FOQ) prior to operation, and have it approved by French CAA, and this can involve a week or two to accomplish if you’ve not done it before.
4. Documentation requirements
Other than for Cuba, there are no mandates for private operators to submit documentation prior to arrival. However, charter operators must always provide CAA with specific documentation in advance. While requirements vary from island to island, charter operators may need to provide documents such as:
- Air Operator Certificate
- Third party worldwide insurance
- Airworthiness certificate
- Registration certificate
- Ops specs (pages: A001, A003, B050 and D085)
- When applicable, proof of permission by the State of registry to offer non-scheduled air transport operations to air ambulance operations
- Noise certificate
5. Visa requirements
Depending upon your destination in the Caribbean, visas may be required for certain nationalities. It’s always best to check with your 3rd-party provider, well in advance of day of operation, on any applicable crew or passenger visa requirements.
6. CARICOM APIS
The following 10 countries in the 15 nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) require advance passenger information system (APIS) filing for all private non-revenue and charter GA flights:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- St. Kitts and Nevis
- St. Lucia
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago
Information required for CARICOM APIS filings includes full names, date of birth, nationality, country of residence and complete passport information for all onboard. More information on CARICOM APIS can be found in our article “CARICOM APIS – Rules for Business Aviation Operators to know.”
7. CIQ pre-clearance
It’s possible to do full clearance into the U.S. in Puerto Rico — usually via either TJSJ or Aguadilla (TJBQ). Clearance is possible 0800-2359 local at TJSJ while CIQ hours are a bit more limited at TJBQ with hours 0830-2330 local. GA operators may also pre-clear into the U.S. at Aruba (TNCA) but with the restriction that they must land at an airport stateside with approved international trash disposal capabilities. U.S. CIQ pre-clearance is also possible at both TIST and St Croix (TISX). However, this option is only available 0700-1630 local with no customs overtime available. Operators must request pre-clearance in advance and must depart the islands within one hour of pre-clearing. Additionally, when pre-clearing in the U.S. Virgin Islands you many only proceed to an airport in the U.S. with customs available, just in case U.S. Customs decides to re-clear your aircraft.
8. Requesting services
When requesting support services at Caribbean destinations it’s always best to provide aircraft type, itinerary, crew and passenger information to your local handler in advance. Many smaller islands have limited services, so it’s recommended to pre-confirm that all required services — such as in-flight catering, potable water, lav services and ground support equipment (GSE) — will be obtainable.
9. Parking and fuel uplifts
Parking can be an issue during high season in the Caribbean, and operators may need to drop and go. TNCM parking often fills up during holiday periods, and other locations, such as St Vincent (TVSV) and Castries, St. Lucia (TLPC), only have one or two spots available for overnight GA parking. Fuel outages and shortages can also be an issue at some locations. Fuel shortages may only be advised by NOTAM at the last minute. While we can usually arrange minimum amount fuel uplifts during such shortages it’s best to tanker as much fuel as you can to minimize required uplift amount at the destination.
It’s not uncommon for certain locations in the Caribbean — particularly TNCM and Dominican Republic airports — to run out of overnight parking for GA. Best practice is to make your parking request as early as possible and have contingency plans to reposition if overnight parking is denied. If parking at TNCM is not available, nearby TQPF with its recently lengthened runway to 5,456 ft. may also be unavailable. In some cases, you may need to fly several islands away in order to source available parking and crew accommodations.
11. Crew accommodations
Hotel accommodations often sell out during peak and holiday operating periods — particularly 4- and 5-star options. In some cases rooms, if they’re available at all, may cost several hundred U.S. dollars per night with long cancellation or non-refundable policies. Be mindful that you may also run into situations where you may book non-refundable crew accommodations in advance, but parking status is unknown until just a few days prior to the estimated time of arrival.
For high season operations to popular Caribbean destinations it’s always best to plan early. While permit and documentation requirements are minimal in this part of the world, at least for private non-revenue operations, parking and hotel accommodations can be challenging at times. When planning short notice flights to the region it’s important to be flexible and prepared when necessary to drop go and reposition.
If you have any questions about this article or would like assistance planning your next trip to the Caribbean, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Mark Hudson
Mark Hudson is an expert on arranging charter flights for business aviation, particularly obtaining difficult permits. An FAA Licensed Dispatcher, Mark currently serves as a Master Mission Advisor on the Universal Charter Management Team. Since joining Universal in 2002, he has facilitated more than 6,000 global trip legs, and specializes in last-minute requests. Mark can be reached at email@example.com.
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