The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has denied an Airlines for America (A4A) complaint against the Bahamas government and 13 airlines based there.

The A4A complaint, filed on behalf of American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, FedEx Express, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and UPS Airlines, argued that airspace fees collected by the Bahamas Air Navigation Services Authority (BANSA) are unjustified, discriminatory, and contrary to Bahamas' obligations under Article 10 of the US-Bahamas Air Transport Agreement. Notably, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides the bulk of airspace management services in Bahamas airspace, for which the US-based carriers already pay fees for. The A4A complaint says the BANSA airspace fees far outweigh the costs to that entity of providing any airspace services. In effect, the US airlines argued they are being double-billed.

The US carriers wanted a show cause order issued against the Bahamian government, saying that unless BANSA ends the practice, the rights of Bahamas-based airlines to fly to the US should be curtailed, suspended, or subject to other countervailing measures. Local airlines listed on the original A4A complaint included Air Ambulance Services Ltd, Azure Aviation (Bahamas), Bahamas Air Holdings Ltd, Cherokee Air, Golden Wings Charter (Bahamas), Inter Island Charters (Bahamas), Island Wings Ltd, KSA Charters Ltd, Le Air Charters Ltd, Performance Air (Bahamas), Southern Air Charter, Trans Island Airways, and Western Air Bahamas.

The Bahamian government, Island Wings, Golden Wings Charter, and Western Air filed formal responses opposing the A4A complaint. The three airlines said they could not appropriately address the legal and political issues raised between A4A and the Bahamas government. However, they said any suspension would significantly impact their operations and asked the DOT to reject the complaint. The response of the Bahamian government, filed on January 11, relied on four points; (i) that the DOT did not have the jurisdiction to head the complaint; (ii) that the A4A members did not have the legal standing to challenge the charges; (iii) that in any case, the DOT is not the correct forum to resolve the complaint, and (iv) the charges are consistent with the US-Bahamas Air Transport Agreement and all airlines, regardless of where they come from, operate under the same BANSA fees regime.

"We have serious concerns that the overflight charges imposed by BANSA may not fall within a reasonable level vis-à-vis The Bahamas' cost for the provision of air navigation services, and we question whether the charges are fully consistent with Article 10 of the Air Transport Agreement," reads the DOT decision on the matter. "That said, we do not believe that the IATFCPA (International Air Transportation Fair Competitive Practices Act (1974)) can provide relief to the Complainants. 49 USC 41310 authorizes the department to take actions in the public interest against discriminatory activity. Having carefully reviewed the complaint and all of the responsive pleadings filed, we do not believe that this record supports a finding of discrimination on the part of The Bahamas." ch-aviation has contacted A4A for their response to the complaint's dismissal.

Rather than suspend or curtail the rights of Bahamas-based carriers to fly to the US, the DOT believes they can resolve the dispute through diplomatic measures. The agency will pursue a resolution through consultations with the Bahamian government, saying, "we believe that the public interest is better served by pursuing our cost-basis questions and seeking to resolve the underlying matter through the terms established in the Air Transport Agreement."

"Should we determine through those efforts that The Bahamas' charges are inconsistent with the agreement, including any potential discriminatory activity, we retain ample statutory and regulatory ability to take actions required by the public interest."