Thursday, September 16, 2010

Breezin' the Bahamas

Just heard from Mike Zidziunas of Breezer Aircraft USA who gave me a touch of the end-of-summer blues with his chronicle of a trip he just made with two Breezers to those magical isles in the Caribbean.
"I was probably the most excited person at Airventure this year," Mike writes, "when I heard the government of the Bahamas would allow sport pilots to fly there from the States using a driver's license instead of a medical."
Mike knows the Sport Pilot turf well: he was one of the first to get the ticket and has been a Sport Pilot CFI since 2005.  His flight school is strictly Sport Aviation and he's flown LSA on hundreds of hours of cross country trips all over the US.
"And now I can fly to my favorite place on earth!"
Before the trek, there was of course the paperwork, including securing radio station licenses for the planes, radio telephone operators licenses for the pilots, customs user decals, and registration with eAPIS for customs manifest filing.
Then both airplanes were rigorously inspected -- "We were flying a long way over water."
Along with copilot Chris Parker of the Caribbean Weather Service and his pals Roger Sherrod and wife Chady in a second Breezer, the four Bahama-Bound Breezerfolk made the initial 55nm hop to Bimini, then continued on down to what Mike calls "the prettiest place on earth, the Exumas."
Mike reports: "The government of the Bahamas works with gateway FBOs to help pilots navigate the formalities at both ends of the trip. We used Banyan Air at Ft Lauderdale Executive (KFXE) which was very helpful making sure we had our paperwork right and answering last minute questions. We traveled as a flight of two and used flight following. Nassau Approach separated us for traffic separation."
Once they touched down at Nassau, the controllers showed a lot of interest in the LSA, "which happened everywhere we went."
The final leg to Staniel Cay, Exuma delivered them to three days of snorkling, kayaking, bike riding, and some aerial sightseeing.  "We captured amazing pictures and video."
The entire trip from Florida took 6 1/2 hours from Mike's home base, Plant City (KPCM), including fuel stops and customs.
Fuel burn was less than 25 gallons per Breezer.  "I love LSA," says Mike.  "And our trip home featured a nice tailwind and took even less time and fuel."
He cites some initial frustration with eAPIS.  "But once you're set up, oh boy does it speed up clearing back into the US!  The US customs and Imigration folks were really nice."

Though he's taken his boat to the Bahamas many times over the years, Mike calls this his favorite trip ever.   "The out islands of the Bahamas are some of the most beautiful places, inhabited by the friendliest people in the world, but they're difficult to reach by commercial transportation.  
"Now with my LSA and a little pre-planning, they've never been so close."
There's an LSA fly-in down there on the 10th of December.  "I hope it will be well attended, because flying to the Bahamas is now a Breeze(r)".
Thanks for the great report, Mike!
   ---image courtesy Breezer Aircraft USA


ibgarrett said...

This is just plain awesome! I've got a trip planned to that part of the world, but probably will go commercial - although I'm sure we could make it in our little LSA. Coming from CO would make it a bunch longer trip though.

Thanks for posting this.

Glenn S. Ferguson @ Bahamas Destinantion Wedding said...

You are right that the Exuma's are "the prettiest place on earth" And it is a testament to overall charm and beauty of the Bahamas. Not only is it great for boating and breezing but an ideal for destination wedding.

As it provides the great combination of a beautiful Country with friendly people.