The president of the Bahamas Association of Air Transport Operators has warned that a complaint by eight US airlines filed with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) concerning overflight fees charged by Bahamian authorities could have serious implications for Bahamas-based airlines.

Anthony Hamilton, president of the airline lobby group and administration director at Southern Air Charter (PL, Nassau International), told the Tribune Business news outlet that the December 20 complaint filed by Airlines for America (A4A) on behalf of the US carriers called on the DOT to curtail or suspend the rights of Bahamas-based airlines to fly to the US until the Bahamian government addressed the matters raised. Hamilton said such a move could have a “serious negative impact on Bahamian aviation."

At the heart of the A4A complaint, signed by representatives of American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, FedEx Express, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and UPS Airlines, are what they say are excessive charges for using Bahamian airspace (above 6,000 feet) when air navigation services in that airspace are provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a minimal fee.

"The annual charges levied against the [A4A airline] members alone are more than 100 times greater than the FAA’s annual fee to the Bahamas for its services and, being generous to the Bahamas in their administration of the air navigation services agreement and fee collection, significant multiples higher than the actual costs to the Bahamas for all the services provided to the (A4A) members," the DOT complaint said. "The Bahamas charges are only duplicative against those air carriers (like the members) that are already paying for the air traffic control services directly to the FAA when operating to or from the United States, while other air carriers operating through the Bahamas’ airspace do not have to pay such duplicative charges."

Hamilton says any ban on Bahamian airlines flying into the US is untenable. According to the ch-aviation PRO airlines module, there are 14 active airline based in the Bahamas, including one cargo airline, one private charter carrier, seven passenger charter airlines, and five scheduled passenger airlines. Local carriers Bahamasair and Western Air Bahamas presently operate scheduled services in and out of the US.

Hamilton is calling for dialogue between all stakeholders to ensure an informed and proper outcome. "It is time for the whole industry to be taking a proper look at some things that are in the works,” he said. "The entire aviation industry needs to be involved in any discussions moving forward with US authorities on right-sizing overflight fees so there is no disruption or turbulence in the future."

Hamilton has previously called out what he argues are the high fees and taxes charged by Bahamian authorities on local airlines. Speaking at a local business forum in late 2022, he called on the government to "at least explore the possibility of reducing airfare taxes." He also said more work needed to be done regarding aviation data collection, developing airport infrastructure, and building a multi-purpose aircraft maintenance facility.

Since the A4A complaint, the Bahamian government has said they are entitled to collect overflight fees, plan to continue doing so, and will respond to the complaint in due course.