Declining temperatures typically nudge many business aviation operators to flock to the Caribbean for warmer weather – hence the term “snowbirds.” Those island-bound trips tend to take place between November and April, but major holidays and long weekends are also popular times.
The influx of business aircraft, mingled with increasing commercial traffic, makes getting beyond America’s coastal waters tricky. Plus, those who manage to reach their destinations discover a sandbox with different ground rules.
Dean Snell, NBAA’s manager, air traffic services, says some operators trying to get to the Caribbean during peak periods must contend with an Airspace Flow Program (AFP) coordinated by FAA’s Miami Center. “The AFP restricts the volume of aircraft to match the controllers’ capacity in busy periods,” Snell says.
Operators can avoid the AFP by planning off-peak travel. In some cases, they can fly around it, which requires extra coordination and more time.
Another major challenge operators deal with is the finite ramp space available that must be shared with commercial and regional carriers at a given destination, especially the most popular ones. Think of Eastern Caribbean islands like Anguilla, Barbados and others. What they have in common is a scarcity of ramp parking. And if there is parking, it’s typically outside of the airport’s operating hours with few overtime options. Gregory Hassell, manager of ATC operations at Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) on St. Maarten, offers some straightforward guidance: “Request parking as far in advance as possible. Plan your arrival before 11 a.m. or after 6 p.m.” Hassell says this would avoid the commercial peak period.
“There have been times when, with no advance notice, some airports ground stop general aviation aircraft due to parking availability,” says Snell.
Other times, busy airports implement “block out time” for GA arrivals during peak periods. “Operators must either divert to another airport and/or hold until a parking spot becomes available,” Snell says. While these options run against core benefits business aviation operators hope for, flexibility is paramount.
“There have been times when, with no advance notice, some airports ground stop general aviation aircraft due to parking availability. ”
DEAN SNELL NBAA Manager, Air Traffic Services
Eric Zipkin, founder and president of Tradewind Aviation, says there are workarounds operators can consider. Based in Oxford, CT, Tradewind offers chartered PC-12 flights throughout North America and the Caribbean, specifically Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport (SJU) in Puerto Rico.
Zipkin says this is beneficial for Tradewind because it allows the company to launch flights from territory under FAA jurisdiction.
Tradewind mitigates parking challenges by flying to a nearby destination, dropping off and picking up passengers, going to the next destination, and eventually returning to base.
Zipkin advises departments to communicate to customers that during peak periods, leveraging this form of regional inter-island travel might be the most feasible option for getting to their destination in a way that is still timely, when Plan A has more hurdles than expected.