Airlines for America (A4A), a trade group representing US carriers, has lodged a complaint with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) alleging unjustifiable, unreasonably discriminatory, anticompetitive and unreasonable charges have been levied against its member airlines by the Bahamas that violates the Air Transport Agreement (ATA) between the two countries.

A4A says the Bahamas is charging "astronomical" fees for air navigation services that far exceed the cost of providing those services. The trade group says that the Bahamas views air navigation charges as a way to exercise their sovereign right over their airspace but A4A says the excessive levies are a breach of its obligations under Article 10 of the US-Bahamas ATA.

In addition to the Bahamian government, listed respondents include Bahamas-based Air Ambulance Services Ltd., Azure Aviation (Bahamas), Bahamasair, Cherokee Air, Golden Wings Charter (Bahamas), Inter Island Charters (Bahamas), Island Wings Ltd., KSA Charters Ltd., LeAir Charters Ltd., Performance Air (Bahamas), Southern Air Charter, Trans Island Airways, and Western Air Bahamas. Airlines party to the A4A complaint include American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, FedEx Express, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and United Parcel Service.

"After significant engagement with the government of the Bahamas on this issue, the members have not seen or received any details that confirms that Bahamas’s air navigation charges are consistent with their treaty obligations," the complaint reads. "Accordingly, the members resort to requesting that the department exercise its authorities under IATFCPA (International Air Transport Fair Competitive Practices Act of 1974) to remedy the unjustifiable, unreasonably discriminatory, anticompetitive activities of the Government of the Bahamas."

Notably, the A4A complaint says that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides air traffic services for Bahamian airspace via a May 2021 Air Navigation Services Agreement (ANSA). The ten-year agreement is a solid deal for the Bahamas government, with the FAA not charging for services provided for operations above 6,000 feet but instead, a flat USD80,000 annual fee for the provision of data for the Bahamian government to use in billing and collecting fees.

However, the Bahamian government is also charging member airlines its own per-nautical mile distance-based fee for the provision of air traffic control services for aircraft transiting Bahamas’s airspace on a minimum takeoff weight (MTOW) basis, applying the highest charges to the biggest aircraft.

"Even greater charges (on a per flight basis) are levied for aircraft that land or depart from the Bahamas," the complaint says. "Nothing revealed in the members’ engagement of more than a year and a half with the Bahamas indicates a reasonable correlation between the fees charged and the services provided by the Bahamas."

A4A says member airlines pay the Bahamas government USD51.60 per nautical mile when transiting Bahamas’ airspace and USD61.00 per flight when taking off or landing there. Since the Bahamian government started charging its own fees last year, A4A says its member airlines have paid approximately USD20 million.

A4A acknowledges that the fees charged by the Bahamas government are used to fund the local civil aviation authority, accident investigations, and build its own air navigation capacity. However, the trade group says its members already pay into the FAA’s Airport and Airway Trust Fund which covers air traffic control and related facilities. They object to paying the Bahamian government for a service provided by a US agency that they already pay for. Bahamas-based airlines and other non-US carriers flying into the Bahamas are not subject to the same double-dipping regime.

The FAA says interested parties should answer the complaint in Docket DOT-OST-2022-0150 by Wednesday, January 11, 2023. The agency has 60 days to resolve the complaint, with a 30-day extension available if required.