Make Holiday Travel To The Caribbean A Breeze
Caribbean. The word, let alone the senses it conjures up, just relaxes you. Unless you’re a flight department with a trip scheduled during the holidays. For most, there is nothing relaxing about trying to get a landing slot on a crowded airfield, securing parking space (much less a hangar) on some of the world’s most prime real estate, or wondering if/when fuel will be available for the trip home.
Traveling in and out of the Caribbean between mid-November and late-March is a challenge. But, if your trip falls between late November (around American Thanksgiving) and New Years, it can be downright nightmarish. If the Caribbean is in your flight plans this winter, here’s how to make your trip a day at the beach:
Planning, Planning, Planning
Planning every detail as far in advance as possible is the single best thing you can do for a smooth trip. When doing your homework, look at flight planning, slot reservations, ground handling services, fuel, parking, eAPIS/CARICOM submission and approval, maintenance contingencies, lodging reservation requirements and cancellation policies, ground transportation, financial arrangements, etc. While several of these are covered in more detail below, you should take nothing for granted.
Airplane Accommodations Are Harder To Get
Islands, by their very nature, have limited real estate. One of the first steps you should take is to get an airplane parking reservation and confirm it. Many airfields won’t even let you land if you don’t have parking reserved.
Then, communicate your travel schedule, as well any changes, to your ground handler. You don’t want to arrive for departure only to find 15 airplanes have to be moved first. Don’t be afraid to get the details about how many airplanes will be parked around yours. If it feels too crowded, remember that you can drop your customers/passengers on one island and park on another.Don’t come home with sunburn or hangar rash.
Fuel is the perhaps the biggest unknown. Essentially, there are two fuel suppliers in the Caribbean, and limited quantities of fuel arrive daily by barge. Consider these options when securing fuel:
- Plan for a fuel uplift fuel immediately after you land. It ensures you get fuel and minimizes delays at departure time. Don’t worry about filling up your tanks and then letting your airplane sit in the Caribbean heat. The temps are very moderate and don’t fluctuate much that time of year.
- Confirm how the fuel will be paid for when you make your reservation. If a release is required, get a hard copy to show the local handler and fueler.
- If you can’t fuel after landing, ask about peak hours at the field (around commercial arrivals and departures). Trucks will be operating then and you can make arrangements to uplift fuel to your airplane after the rush is over.
- Understand that environmental and mechanical issues could delay fuel deliveries—even cancel them on a given day. Build in some flexibility.
Technician On Stand-By
Service capacity and parts availability will be limited and overrun. Have a plan in place in the event a mechanical issue occurs. You may want your trusted technician on standby. Remember, aircraft service people that travel to an island may require a valid work permit before they can start. Work permits can be obtained upon arrival at the airport and costs vary by location. If a local handler is required, make your specific repair, tooling and parts requirements known as soon as possible. This is critical especially if after hours, weekend or holiday work may be necessary.
The airspace around the Caribbean will be saturated with increased general and business aviation traffic, and higher volumes of commercial activity as well. Requests to hold or divert should be anticipated. As part of your flight planning, factor in plenty of fuel and try to anticipate where you might be diverted. Planning for holds and/or diverting will alleviate a lot of stress.
Along with the air space, Customs will also be saturated. Plan for lines and delays. Make sure your documents are in order upon arrival, or you and your customers/passengers will be asked to holdor divert as well.
Experience Is Standing-By
You’re likely used to doing your own flight planning, dispatch, scheduling, etc. Perhaps even when traveling to the Caribbean. However, with so many uncontrollable variables impacting your trip, an international trip-planning partner could more than pay for itself.
For starters, they’ve planned hundreds of trips and know the ins and outs that only come from experience. For example, Grand Case Airport (TFFG) on the French side of St. Martin could be a good alternate to St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport (TNCM) located on the Dutch side of the island. A knowledgeable partner can offer thousands of insights like this.
They’re also likely monitoring the entire Caribbean. This can be immensely helpful in quickly securing alternate parking or available fuel (for example). You’ll also have an advisor available during the entirety of your trip that can make finding “Plan B” options a snap. Finally, the right partner has vetted all the ground-based resources. The relationships they’ve established can help smooth over any potentially sticky situations. They’ll also recommend trusted providers who value your business, not just your money.
If you’re planning a trip to the Caribbean this winter, learn more about how Jeppesen’s International Trip Planning Services can help make your trip a breeze by clicking here or calling (800) 553-7750 or +1 (303) 328-4244.