Saturday 18 May 2013 09:59 UTC
Where have you been? What have you seen?
VFR Orlando to the Bahamas.
I think like most pilots when we get our pilots license we dream of flying to faraway exotic places for adventures, the reality of the situation is a £100 bacon butty or a hop over to L2K for some lunch once or twice a year. It was this reality that prompted me to find somewhere cool to fly to and really use my license. After a lot of research the out islands of the Bahamas were selected for a flying holiday.
I’d say only around 8 or so FBO’s in Florida allow flights to the Bahamas and only 3 allow it without an IR. A lot of them shy away from it because if the aircraft goes tech or the weather closes in it can be a little more costly and more hassle for them. After making a booking with Air America in Daytona beach their CFI left and my booking was cancelled 4 days before I was due to fly out! After many phone calls and lots of stress I managed to get an aircraft from Air Orlando based at Orlando executive. A 7 day rental with a 2hour per day minimum rental time. Worked out at around 164USD per hour including a fuel surcharge.
To be perfectly honest I thought I may have bitten off more than I could chew, I’d never flown in the US before, I wasn’t particularly current on C172s, complex procedures for getting in and out of the bahamas, and to top things off my initial rental company dropped me in it.
Converting from JAA to FAA , you need to pay the CAA 40 quid to release your data to the FAA , fill in a few forms from the FAA and tell them what flight office you want to use in the US. Once the paper work is done , make an appointment with the US flight office or examiner and off you go. The flight office in the US only process 2 foreign pilots a day , and they were full so I managed to meet with an examiner called Bob Hunt who did all of my paper work for 75USD. Once you have your temp license you then need to book a bi annual flight review with a flight school . The first hour we talked about the airspace and procedures , then the aircraft , then did a few circuits, looked at the local airspace etc.
I used Scott Koehnlein and David Sheltdon at Air Orlando and I was recommend them both , very friendly and professional instructors.
route by cosworth60, on Flickr
So after much stress and hassle we were finally on our way. I asked from flight following down the coast and over to Marsh harbour to celar customs and get some fuel. INSERT PIC
The first controller I spoke to asked for current course. So I said currently bithlow – to the coast , down to Palm beach then Marsh harbour. He asked again current course. What he wanted was my heading ! He then advised me about Bithlo towers , which I could see you can’t miss them . So the terminology and the fast pace took some getting used to. Flying down the coast I must have talked to at least 8 separate controllers , I’ve never changed frequencies so much in my life ! To be fiar its worth getting flight following from Palm Beach or miami for the water crossing but down the coast line was too much hassle. Flying at 6000 foot 10 mile vis , flat land , loads of airfields around its like an engine failure paradise, so the extra safety was a little more hassle than it was worth.
We landed at Marsh Harbour after around 2 hours 40 min flying , cleared customs , had lunch then set off on the second leg down to Stella Maris . Stella Maris really want to attract pilots and we got one free night plus a 300USD fuel rebate ! So for two people 4 nights it worked out at around 220GBP each including all meals !!
stella by cosworth60, on Flickr
The near by beach of Cape Santa Maria was amazing (INSERT PIC)
2 by cosworth60, on Flickr
The plan was then to fly over to Staniel Cay for 3 nights but on our final day at Stella Maris a really bad weather front came in and wasn’t due to move for another week. We made the decision to head back to florida as the weather was better and finish our holiday there. You need to depart the Bahamas from a Customs airport and I had selected Grand Bahama. The flight back was a nightmare , cloud base at 700-1000ft winds gusting 25knts. I’ve never done scud running before and it wasn’t a pleasant flight but at least there was literately nothing to hit if you do fly low.
On landing at Grand Bahama I decided to spend the night in the hope of a weather improvement. That improvement never came until 3 days later. 3 days in a rainy hotel on grand bahama is not much fun ! They normally have 315 days of sunshine a yr so I never really worried about the weather and we were very unlucky. Low cloud , strong winds and CB’s in the region is never a good mix , it doesn’t help much when your non pilot passenger puts you under pressure to get back but eventually the weather broke and we headed out to Palm Beach.
You need to re enter the US at your closest possible airport within so many miles, other wise it takes 6 weeks to get an overfly permit to land say back at Orlando. The customs people at palm processed us then we were on our way back to Orlando executive. This is a tricky little airport to get in and out of , I wasn’t used to the large expanses of multiple runways and taxi ways but luckily I didn’t mess up on anything.
1 by cosworth60, on Flickr
The last few days we spent in Tampa which for nightlife is pretty damm good , also a trip to Kennday space centre and got to see a rocket launch which was cool.
3 by cosworth60, on Flickr
rocket by cosworth60, on Flickr
Total trip cost came in at around £1500 which was flight out on thompson £350 , plane rental £650 each plus hotels. Not bad for a 2 week holiday. In hindsight I probably pushed myself a little bit too much and stressed out more than you should do on a holiday. I maybe could have done a little trip to Key West for a week first then another year do the big bahamas adventure.
I’ll definetly go back one day , probably stay on Abbaco then Staniel Cay. A massive amount of planning went into the trip and a big thanks to a lot of forumites who were a mine of useful information. It was certainly an adventure and I’m definitely a better pilot after it all. If you’re starting to loose interest in flying maybe after a few years of boring club flying then this is the sort of trip that would reignite your interest.
Last edited by neilcharlton on Fri May 11, 2012 10:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I did the Florida -> Bahamas about 20 years ago. The only hassles were
a) The VOR's in the Bahamas were so weak that we didn't pick up a signal until we could see land. It was quite a scary couple of hours flying a compass heading and hoping that the weather report got the wind direction right! I dare say your aircraft had a GPS. That would take all that worry away.
b) The fuel truck, clearly marked 100LL, was clearly dispensing MoGas. Fortunately we were warned about that and told it was ok(!)
c) The obligatory taxi ride to the beach was EXPENSIVE!
d) Customs at Fort Pierce closed really early. We missed it by five minutes and had to pay a huge fine.
It was my first and only international flight. I still remember it fondly.
Glad you had a good time.
Great write up.
However the VFR heights in the US are the same as Europe and NOT the same as the Quad rule here in England.
VFR flights are at thousands PLUS 500, so either 5500 or 6500 depending on which semi circle you are flying in.
IFR flights are at whole thousands
Great info there thanks. I'm in Kissimmee in July but they don't allow non-IR to Bahamas, so Air Orlando it will be when I finally get round to Bahamas. And that rocket launch has reminded me to always check the NASA website for schedules so I can conbine the space centre trip with a launch if possible!
Great write up thanks. Just trying to work out average costs, you say around £1500 was that each? and was it £350 each for the thompson flights?
PPL + Night qualification + IMC Rating
Good write up Neil,
There is so much going on in your head on the first trip it makes it seem really daunting.
The controllers in the USA can be hard to understand. They don't seem to expect visual reporting points. They prefer you to fly victor airways or at least between navaids or intersections.
I did not get that many frequency changes but I've never done the trip down the coast at less than 7500ft when using flight following. Same squawk all the way is good though.
The rebate was partly from the Bahamian government with participating resorts.
I can't believe how unlucky you were with the weather. I have only been held up two days in 10 years of trips.
Nice trip and well done on getting yourself out to some of the most beautiful islands in the world. It truly is one of the GA world's '7 aviation wonder (trips) of the world' in my opinion
There is quite a bit of bureaucracy, as you experienced, in doing any international trip out of the USA. The frustrations of dealing with eAPIS made me write a new iPhone app to make it all much easier. Check out iAPIS on the App Store - it is free to download and a manifest is just £1.99 to file. I worked closely with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) team to develop this and has been officially certified as an eAPIS service provider. We stripped out as much of the pain of eAPIS as possible and made, what we feel, is a more intelligent interface for submitting flight manifests to the CBP.
Link to iAPIS download: http://itunes.apple.com/app/id502389011?mt=8
iAPIS - Simplifying eAPIS Manifests on your iPhone/iPad
Follow iAPIS on Twitter and on Facebook
Emailed Air Orlando regarding a similar trip and reply with info in case anyone else considering such a trip
Thank you for your interest in renting an aircraft to take a trip to the Bahamas. We have many customers that do these trips regularly. With regards to weather you can count on VFR weather 98% of the year. Of course in spring and summer and fall you can also count on afternoon thunderstorms and the occasional hurricane. If you plan your flight in the morning typically you won't have much trouble. I would contact the FAA office to make an appointment to get a US PPL licence validation. FAA office phone number +1 (407) 812-7700. You will need to make an appointment with them to complete this however should not be much more than an office visit. Once you have this come on over to Air Orlando to complete our aircraft check out and Bahamas navigation course. This will include an actual flight to the Bahamas and several hours of ground school covering all required procedures. This check out can be completed in one day however plane on the entire day for the check out. Once the instructor is satisfied with you knowledge and skill set he will sign you off. You may then check out one of our aircraft for you trip. You would want to book the aircraft well in advance to assure availability. We do require you pay a minimum of 2 hours per day. Full payment of the hour anticipated will be billed prior to your trip and upon scheduling the aircraft we require a 25% non-refundable deposit.
Here is a link to our aircraft pricing: https://flyairorlando.com/our-rental-fleet/
The check out is to our instructors satisfaction and has no minimum hour requirement.
If you enjoy warm weather, warm water and boating activities I recommend summer months. Otherwise if you enjoy mild weather then winter is the way to go.
Hope this help. Please feel free to call or email if you have any further questions."
PPL + Night qualification + IMC Rating
I don't agree with this Bahamas navigation course !!
The school has recently been purchased by new management; and I've heard a few worrying stories; so beware.
I would email the instructors directly, tell them you have spoken to me about the trip and would they be willing to do a quick bi annual flight review with you and a chat about procedures etc.
I'll PM you all the details now.
Some good info here :
http://bjornmoerman.blogspot.co.uk/2011 ... to_21.html
Important Information for Private Pilots
• Fuel is NOT available on every island, but you are never more than 20 minutes flying time away from fuel.
• The closest Bahama islands to Florida airports are Bimini (46NM from Palm Beach, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale) and Grand Bahama Island (60NM from Palm Beach, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale)
• Nassau and Freeport are the two lighted runways that allow flying at night. All other airports require you to arrive and depart between sunrise and sunset. A few runways on The Out Islands have lights that are for special use only.
• The price of fuel in The Bahamas averages $2.60 a gallon.
• When your flight will transit an ADIZ/DEWIZ area. As a private pilot, there is an ADIZ between The Bahamas and Florida. For DVFR flights, the estimated time of ADIZ penetration must be filed at least 15 minutes prior to penetration. While flying, contact flight service before penetration for a customs squawk.
• "Flight following" is not required, but would be nice to have.
• At least one life jacket per person is required.
• A life raft is not required.
• Current customs stickers should be displayed near the left door. (The sticker can be purchased upon arrival in the U.S.)
• There is no extra charge if you return to the United States and clear customs after regular business hours.
• For weather information in the U.S. and in The Bahamas, call 1-800-WX BRIEF, 242-377-7178, 242-377-7116.
• You can bring pet(s) into the Bahamas. An Import Permit is required; call Agriculture 242-325-7502.
• You must be an instrument rating pilot to fly to Nassau and Freeport after sunset.
• File an International Flight Plan.
• Must have Coast Guard approved life jackets for each person on board.
• Activate your flight plan before leaving Florida on 122.2, 122.4 or 126.7 (Miami Radio).
• Land at an Airport of Entry (AOE) to clear Customs and Immigration.
• Prior to landing, close your flight plan on 124.2 or 128.0 (Nassau Radio). If unable to close in the air, call 1-800-WXBRIEF or 242-377-7116.
• Prepare Gen Decs or Cruising Permit and Immigration cards in advance if possible.
• Be cooperative with Customs and Immigration.
• You must depart from an AOE.
• Complete 1 Gen Dec and turn in copy of Immigration card.
• File an International Flight Plan at 1-800-WXBRIEF, advise U.S. Customs.
• Activate flight plan with Nassau Radio on 124.2, 128.0 or Freeport Radio. If unable, activate with Miami Radio 126.7 or 122.4. From Bimini, 122.1, Miami Remote no voice, and listen on VOR 116.7. Higher altitudes get better reception.
• Must receive a discrete transponder code from FSS 126.7 Miami Radio 15 minutes before penetrating the ADIZ. Flight Service is responsible, not Approach Control!
• For flight following, contact Nassau on 121.0 or Miami on 125.7.
• Close your flight plan in the air on 122.2, 122.4, or 126.7. If not able, close at Customs office with 1-800-WXBRIEF.
• Land at an Airport of Entry such as MIA, FLL, FXE, PBI or FPR.
• Take all your baggage and go directly to Customs.
• Prepare U.S. Arrival Report and Customs Declaration cards in advance if possible.
There does indeed seem to be a change in management style. It could be that they are covering themselves for the lowest common denominator. I have never had to do more than a standard BFR with them which must be not less than one hour in the air and one hour in the classroom.
I have on three occasions just been handed the keys and let go. I had done my BFR with them the previous year. The paying in advance was asked for last year for the first time. I've never been asked for a booking deposit and would not pay one.
I can only presume they have had some bad experiences.
I had used Air Orlando on a number of occasions with no problems.
The only exception was when I booked (3 months in advance) a G1000 conversion on a C172 with several more hours booked over the following few days as solo rental.
I just happened to visit the day before the checkout to find (on the student computer) that the aircraft involved had been taken offline for maintenance and no other G1000 aircraft were available. Nobody had taken the time to inform/e-mail me about the cancellation.
No checkout achieved meant cancellation of all the solo rental booked for the next few days.
I managed to make a last minute booking at Jack Browns for a SEP(Sea) so my trip to Florida wasn't wasted.
Just noticed Neils cut & paste is from a very old document.
Alas fuel is no longer $2.60 gal. More like $7.20.
Inbound and outbound you must send eAPIS reports to CBP at least 2 hours before flight.
Inbound you must phone for customs appointment at point of entry. You will get the initials of the officer you contact.
Customs have become super critical about getting a squawk inbound before crossing the outer ADIZ. I'm sure it used to be the inner! If you are not flying high enough for reception this may require some pre planning. Guess how I know.
I am sorry to hear of your experience at Air Orlando. It is unforgivible not updating you after travelling nearly 5000 miles. They have given me exceptional service having visited most years since 1997. The MD used to be a gent by the name of John Painter who knew about customer service. I wonder if he is no longer there?
D.O I believe John sold up , the new guys are not so friendly so I hear. - I think if anyone wants to use Air Orlando proceed with caution.
Thanks for the update on the info , there's certainly a lot to remember for this sort of trip.
What with the rubbish weather here , I'd love to go back and do it again . If only i were rich
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