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A Bahamasair 737-500 (Photo: Venkat Mangudi [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)])

Bahamasair Boeing 737-500s Unable to Fly into U.S. Airspace

For the past ten years, pilots and airlines in the United States have had a deadline. As part of the FAA’s NextGen plan for air traffic control, aircraft flying in certain airspace in the United States are required to have ADS-B technology onboard. The deadline for the aircraft to be modified with ADS-B recently passed on January 2. However, for Bahamasair, there wasn’t enough time to get a third of its fleet compliant, a Forbes report stated.

The national airline of the Bahamas has three Boeing 737-500 aircraft in its fleet. None of these aircraft have been made ADS-B compliant, and likely won’t be until March. This means the airline will be unable to fly a third of its fleet into the United States. In addition to the fleet of 737-500 aircraft, the airline has one 737-700, three ATR 42s, and two ATR 72s.

The company’s 737-700 and ATRs are all ADS-B compliant and able to operate into the United States. In order to cover their schedule, the airline will operate these aircraft on its U.S. routes that would normally see the 737-500. The 737-500 will operate on domestic inter-island and inter-Carribean routes, not affected by the new ADS-B regulations.

In addition, the airline is wet-leasing aircraft from operators such as Miami Air to cover some flights. 

Bahamasair operates flights to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando in Florida, as well as flights to Houston and Chicago O’Hare. The airline has stated that they are struggling to find parts for the aging fleet of Boeing 737-500. In addition to being from the late 1990s, the aircraft are rare to find, with less than 400 built, and a majority have been retired. The airline planned to replace the 737-500, but the grounding of the 737 MAX aircraft has made used Boeing 737 Next-Generation aircraft difficult to find. 

The airline did have a supplier in place to install ADS-B equipment on its aircraft, though it was unable to get the equipment in time. Presently a deal is in place with a new supplier for equipment, however, if approved, it would take three weeks to take delivery.

With the need to maintain its schedule, this likely means its fleet won’t be ADS-B compliant until March at the earliest. The airline is expected to continue wet-leasing aircraft in order to meet demand. 

The FAA does allow exceptions to operate aircraft into controlled airspace without ADS-B equipment. However, it is on a case by case basis and is designed to be for one-off scenarios. It is not designed to allow continuous operations by noncompliant aircraft. Until it finds a long-term solution the airline will be stuck wet-leasing and facing capacity reduction for some flights. 

Daniel Morley
Daniel Morley
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