Caribbean Peak Season Bizjet Travel 2016 – Part 1: Airports, Parking & Ground Handling
This business aviation blog post is part of a series on operating to the Caribbean during the peak season.
While the Caribbean region is a relatively easy operating environment for business aircraft operators in terms of permits, airport slots and documentation requirements, there are issues to consider during peak travel season. Parking runs out at certain locations, fuel uplifts quantities may be limited or unavailable, and crew hotel accommodations might not be possible to source on short notice.
The following is an overview of what you need to know:
1. Peak travel period
Peak travel season in the Caribbean is from early November through late April. Extreme peak travel conditions occur over major holidays and long weekends, including New Year, Christmas and Spring break. General Aviation (GA) traffic movements throughout this region are much higher than normal during peak and super peak periods when airports often reach saturation levels.
2. Popular destinations
During peak season many locations become extremely busy, including St. Maarten (TNCM), St. Thomas (TIST), Nassau (MYNN), Antigua (TAPA), Tortola (TUPJ) and Anguilla (TQPF). Ramp congestion is also experienced at smaller destinations such as popular Nevis (TKPN), with its 3,996 foot runway, and smaller outer islands in the Bahamas.
3. Parking and access challenges
During high season, GA access to many destinations becomes more challenging, with additional trip planning lead time recommended. For example, TNCM experiences peak periods of scheduled commercial operations Monday-Friday 1300-1700 local and Saturday-Sunday 1100-1700 local – presenting GA access issues. TIST also fills up from time to time with no GA parking availability. Over at TQPF, where the runway was extended to 5,456 ft a couple of years ago, GA parking spots routinely fill up and crew accommodations are often not available. Be mindful that TQPF has limited airport hours of 0645-1900 local and no overtime options. Note that while peak season parking may be requested early at popular island destinations it will usually not be confirmed until a couple of weeks prior to the estimated time of arrival (ETA). And, by that time, you may already have your non-refundable hotel reservations in place.
4. TNCM ground holds
During the peak of the high season, TNCM implements flow control due to severe ramp congestion from time to time. This may reduce operations to as low as five aircraft per hour and may result in circling holds and diversions to alternates. In flow control situations ground stops may be implemented to manage arrivals and departures of transient aircraft, and this can result in delays.
5. Drop and go’s
At popular islands during peak season it may be necessary to drop passengers and reposition due to lack of overnight parking and/or crew accommodations. In some cases you may be able to find aircraft parking on a nearby island, perhaps a reposition to TAPA after dropping passengers at TNCM, and in other cases it may be preferable to just reposition back stateside.
6. Ground handling
Depending on your destination, GA support services range from fixed-base operator (FBO) to handlers working out of small terminal facilities with potential ground support equipment (GSE) limitations. While in-flight caterers are available at some larger Caribbean destinations, there are many islands where it’s standard operating procedure (SOP) to source catering directly from hotels or restaurants. In such cases it’s important to ensure food safety, keeping hot and cold foods within particular temperature ranges, as well as having container sizes appropriate for galley re-heating refrigeration equipment.
7. Fuel considerations
Fuel runs out from time to time at some Caribbean locations, most notably TNCM. This is usually pre-notified via NOTAM. As there may be pop up fuel issues, or restricted fuel uplift quantities from time to time at various destinations, it’s recommended to tanker in enough fuel to make it to an alternate uplift location. Many operators choose to depart the U.S. with sufficient fuel for the return trip.
8. Tech stops
There are good quick turn tech stop options in this region, including Barbados (TBPB), Antigua (TAPA), Montego Bay (MKJS), and San Juan (TJSJ). To expedite the tech stop, it’s best to avoid peak periods of commercial aircraft activity and to pre-advise handlers of fuel and other service requirements. Commercial traffic always has fuel and ground service priority over GA.
When operating to the Caribbean top of mind awareness items are always parking, hotel and fuel availability. But, even during super peak travel periods it’s usually possible to drop, go and reposition so that passengers get to their intended destinations on schedule.
Stay tuned for Part 2 which covers permits, airport slots, customs, immigration, and security for travel to the Caribbean.
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.