Aircraft: N83960 - PA28-161
We flew to the Bahamas on September 2016, towards the end of the hurricane season (see last photo below). We strongly recommend NOT to fly during that season since the weather changes abruptly and you’ll find yourself checking the weather all the time and plan your flights around it, rather than enjoying the beaches of this beautiful archipelago. Besides it can be dangerous as thunderstorms build up very rapidly as you are in flight, and before you know it you may end up in the middle of a storm, even if you have a way to check weather forecast while in flight. The following post shares some of the tips from our adventure through the stormy Bahamas. Storms aside, flying the Bahamas is absolutely awesome!
We took off from Fort Lauderdale Executive (KFXE) airport (FL) with two planes (and four pilots): one Piper 161 and one Cessna 172.
Crossing the line of the US air defense identification zone (ADIZ).
View of the West End private airport at Grand Bahama Island. This is a good alternate airport in case of emergency landing.
Approach to the Grand Bahama International airport (MYGF) and the city of Lucaya
Clearing customs at MYGF. This is an important step to remember if you don’t want to get arrested. Lots of good information can be found on the Bahamas Tourism website leaflets on Flight Plan Charts and Private Pilot Guide. The important steps to clear Customs:
From U.S. to Bahamas: 1. File a Flight Plan (DVFR or IFR) 2. File an e-APIS manifest outbound 3. Must have a Coast Guard approved life jacket 4. Activate Flight Plan before leaving Florida. RADIO FREQUENCIES: • Palm Beach 122.40 • Miami/Fort Lauderdale 122.20 • Fort Pierce 122.55 5. Close your flight plan with Nassau (124.2 or 128.00) 6. Must land at an airport of entry (AOE) From Bahamas to U.S.: 1. File e-APIS manifest 2. File a Flight Plan (DVFR or IFR) 3. Call US Customs at the Airport Of Entry on the East Coast 4. Depart Bahamas from an Airport Of Entry 5. Activate Flight Plan 6. Get Discrete Squawk Code (before penetrating ADIZ) 7. Clear Customs in the US 8. Close VFR Flight Plan
From the airport you can take a five-minute taxi ride to one of the resorts at Lucaya where we spent our first night.
We took off the next day from MYGF to North Eleuthera (MYEH). This is the view of the south side of the Great Abaco Island, half way between MYGF and MYEH with a good alternate airport at Sandy Point (MYAS) in case of emergency landing.
Cumulus clouds started to build up during the flight to MYEH. We had no way to check the weather and Nassau Approach on 121.0 would not take our calls, although we were high enough at 7500ft to pick their signal and hear them on the COM radio. ATC doesn't seem as helpful and cooperative with General Aviation in the Bahamas as it is in the US.
By the time we got to MYEH the sky was overcast and we couldn’t see the airport. So we decided to take a detour to Lynden Pindling International airport of Nassau (MYNN). Regardless our persistent requests to check in with Nassau Approach, they would not take our calls. As we got closer to Nassau, we realized the airport was overcast there too with heavy precipitations. Since we didn’t have too much fuel reserve, we decided to fly back to MYEH were we finally found a hole in the clouds and committed to fly through it down to the airport. As we got below the clouds, there was heavy rain and we had to fly 1000ft over the ocean for a few miles to stay clear of clouds. We finally landed safely at MYEH. Crew resource management (CRM) was excellent: we had two pilots in each plane and communicated through the air-to-air frequency. Our CRM in the air was critical to plan for a safe landing at MYEH.
At MYEH there’s a small FBO were you can refuel your plane, take a break or get a short ride to the closest restaurant for lunch.
This small restaurant is only 5-minute drive from the FBO. They offer tourist prices, each burger cost us $20, but we had no other options to keep us fed for the next flight.
After lunch, as waited for the sky to clear out, we made espresso with our Bialetti, the Italian espresso maker.
A few hours later we took off from MYEH towards Rock Sound airport (MYER) at Eulethera Island. The weather was constantly changing, cumulus clouds built up again on the way to MYER.
Swinging between clouds, we approached MYER
and landed. It was 6pm and the tiny FBO was closed. Luckily the airport manager hadn’t left yet and kindly gave us a ride to the nearby village where some locals offered us accommodations for the night.
The next morning we wanted to go visit the Pig Beach with the famous swimming pigs of Exuma Island, but the forecast was overcast starting in the early afternoon, so we had to detour to Nassau while enjoying the view of the Exuma archipelago from above.
Then we landed at the Lynden Pindling International airport of Nassau (MYNN)
and took the cab from there to our hotel. Then finally we hit the beach for the first time in 4 days!
The next morning we took off from MYNN with destination back to our base KFXE. On the way there, we flew over The Bahamas, the biggest island of the archipelago. San Andros (MYAN) on the northern side of that island is a good alternate airport in case of emergency landing.
Fort Lauderdale (FL) welcomed us with a nice rainbow and lots of cumulus clouds.
Swinging between clouds, we landed at KFXE, cleared US Customs (very important! again don’t forget that if you don’t want to get arrested) and celebrated our safe return to the US.
Here’s a dramatic view of hurricane Matthew (that caused all the bad weather we experienced throughout our trip) about to hit the Bahamas as we arrived at Fort Lauderdale.
Here’s our flight plan throughout the Bahamas.