Bahamas aviation authorities are urging passengers to stop participating in illegal charter flights, warning that their lives are at risk.
Some politicians have even been guilty of complicity in the past, according to one pilot, who said candidates have taken advantage of the cheaper services during election time.
“It is a serious issue. You have some hackers down there that don’t have a pilot’s licence, but have been flying for how long. The level of corruption stirs it up and keeps it afloat. The persons who get away with it have some kind of connections to be able to get away with it for so long. It happens blatantly every day in the face of the authorities,” said the pilot.
Aviation safety inspector Delvin Major said the problems with oversight and enforcement are not only the result of corruption among officials.
“Our hands are tied because a lot of the times the passengers are in cahoots,” he said.
Flights by hackers are cheaper because they do not pay commercial liability insurance, do not spend money on approved maintenance programmes for their aircraft, do not spend money on pilot training programmes, and are not held to the same standards, said Inspector Major.
Two recent accidents involved aircraft that were not licensed to operate charters – one of them the twin engine aircraft that crashed on Bimini in May, in which two people died.
The offence of hacking does not carry criminal penalties, which is something the authorities would like to change.
“We would suggest to the government to make it a criminal offence. Haul these guys in to court, seize their planes,” said Inspector Major.