By Ian McMurtry
By Land or Sea: A Glance at Bimini Airports’ Histories
Split into two major islands, the pair of Bimini Islands has long been a quick getaway destination for vacationers across the world. While most will make the trip to Bimini by boat, seeing as how the islands are the closest Bahamian islands to the cities of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, it is still possible to utilize flying to get to either island. With each tailored to suit a different purpose, the duo-airport location has been more than willing to accept travelers for decades.
And the biggest difference between the two airports is the location. For the island of North Bimini, the aptly named North Bimini Airport has made a home off the eastern coast of Alice Town and Bailey Town in the calm bay waters. Due to the location, seaplanes, most notably Chalks Ocean Airways, would serve North Bimini using its fleet of Grumman G-73 Mallards. The airline would serve the airport as a stopover point on service between Nassau-Paradise Island and Miami Seaplane Base. Because the Grumman had deployable solid landing gear, the airline would make use of a small concrete pad that required the aircraft to exit the water and cross the island’s main road before beginning passenger disembarking.
However, North Bimini has also been struggling to keep carriers since the collapse of Chalks in 2007. The airport concrete pad has not seen commercial use since as the airport would only really see charter aircraft in the meantime. Eventually, 2015 would bring in a scheduled commercial airline to the northern seaport. In an agreement with Resorts World, Cape Air would take on a seaplane version of the Cessna 208 and begin flights from Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood and North Bimini. The airline would use traditional boat docks in Bimini, saving time as the aircraft did not need to leave the water to access passenger boarding doors like Chalk’s Mallards.
Cape Air would not last and eventually, Resorts World would shift their agreement to Tropic Ocean Airways. The airline currently operates flights from Bimini to both Miami Seaport Base and Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood. Schedules prioritize using Cessna 208s similar to what Cape Air had been operating in the previous arrangement.
As for using a concrete runway, passengers are directed to South Bimini Airport which is just three miles southeast of the city bearing the same name. Runway 10-28 was originally built as a 4,400 by 100-foot asphalt runway before being granted a 900-foot extension in 2015. Upon lengthening the runway, additional enhancements would be made to allow for better operations including precision approach indicator lighting and LED lighting throughout. While the runway has seen improvement, the small airfield has relied on the same single-building airport terminal to greet travelers for decades.
Because of the hard surface, it has been easy for the island airport to find ways to lure in airlines. However, keeping those brands around has been the more challenging part for South Bimini. The airport has seen service Bimini Island Air, Bahamasair, Flamingo Air, and Elite Airways come and go. For Bahamasair and Elite, flights to Miami and Nassau for the flag carrier and Melbourne-Orlando for the Bombardier operated failed to bear fruit. Flamingo would scale back operations and rely on Western Air for connecting passengers to the Biminis. As for the airline that wore the island’s name, Bimini Island Air would fold following a FAA suspension of Part 135 operating certificate and subsequent repossessing of the airline’s Saab 340 from its lessor in 2011.
The last of these routes would be the flight from Miami to Bimini on Bahamasair, which launched service with ATR 42s in 2018. While the island has always praised additional service, the lack of consistent demand and cost restructuring of Bahamasair brought about the end of the flag carrier’s time in the islands. This has only been compounded by the effects of COVID-19, which saw the border between the United States and the Bahamas closed.
But as travel increased and the Bahamian government relaxed restrictions, South Bimini Airport would welcome Aztec Airways to the island. This time using Piper Navajo Chieftains to operate flights between the southern island and Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport.
On top of Aztec, South Bimini is serviced by just two airlines to three destinations. For flights to other Bahamian islands, flights can be found on Western Air. The largest privatized Bahamian airline uses Embraer ERJ-145s to fly between the Bimini Islands and Nassau. Flying the other direction, Silver Airways uses ATR 42s to serve the land-based airport thrice weekly from Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood.