Although foreign operators are unhappy over the complications they face in obtaining clearances to fly non-U.S.-registered into the U.S., in general the post-9/11 security rules are not insurmountable.
The rub comes in imbalances in U.S. and European regulations, particularly in the areas of charter and fractional operations. Unless a foreign operator obtains a foreign carrier certificate, it is limited to six trips per year to the U.S, while U.S.-registered aircraft enjoy nearly unfettered access to most other countries.
Another dispute has arisen over how the fractionals are seen by various governments. The FAA promulgated FAR Part 91 Subpart K to cover the fractionals in a manner less onerous than Europe’s airline-oriented Part 1 of the Joint Aviation Regulations-Operations (JAR-OPS 1).
The European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), which is a made up of transport ministers, has formed a task force to consider the regulation of European fractional operators. This has led to broader discussions on protecting GA in all of its various incarnations.
Brian Humphries, who is currently the managing director of Shell Aircraft–the flight department of the Royal Dutch/Shell energy group–said that while his company has no problems getting into the U.S., air charter/taxi operators are restricted to six flights a year if they don’t have a foreign carrier license.
“That is a sensitive issue,” he said, “and one we are looking at picking up in the whole question of this industry working group we formed to look at fractional ownership and business aircraft operations generally.” The European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), which Humphries currently chairs and will become CEO of in October, and NBAA have formed an international working group on business aircraft operations (IWG-BAO).
The group is looking at the whole question of international business aircraft operations, he said, because there are broader issues and “we want a level playing field.” He acknowledged a driving force is NetJets and the status of its private aircraft when operating in Europe. “So let’s look at the whole lot,” he said. “Let’s look at the commercial operators going into the U.S., the private operators coming into Europe and so on.”
Humphries said the working group will produce an interim report in about four months. The group has representatives of IBM, NetJets, air charter operators, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, NBAA, EBAA and European operators. “We are just trying to get some advice to this ECAC task force,” he continued, “on not just fractional ownership but international operations of business aircraft.”
Six-trip Restriction Doesn’t Sit Well
Humphries said the only complaint EBAA receives about operating into U.S. airspace is the six-trip restriction. Commercial operators maintain it is not worth acquiring a foreign-carrier certificate unless they are a very large charter company making many trips. “Therefore, it does seem unfair that the American operators coming over here can get an approval for as many flights as they like with about 24 hours’ notice,” said Humphries, “and the European operators are restricted to just six flights before they have to get a foreign carrier certificate.”
He acknowledged that corporate operators also have problems with the visa-waiver program, which is not extended to corporate operations unless the company pays a flat fee for its entire fleet. He pointed out that a British citizen can enter the U.S. on a commercial aircraft under the visa-waiver program, but if a passenger comes in on a corporate aircraft a visa is required.
“It’s much more difficult to get visas now than it used to be,” said Humphries. “Our flight crew visas take about two weeks to obtain.” He said Shell used to get the visas by sending applications to the U.S. embassy in a package, and they came back with a 10-year expiration date. Now the passengers must go to the embassy themselves. “It’s an inconvenience rather than a major hurdle,” he added.
“On this security aspect, we have to ensure that we in the business aviation arena are there with officials so they understand the differences,” the veteran pilot said. “We want an equivalent level of safety. But you don’t get the equivalent level of safety by doing exactly the same as you do on the airlines because the risks are different.”
Universal Weather has a European team that handles more than 100 trips a month into the U.S. by operators from European nations. “The vast majority of them present some challenges,” admitted Roy Lira, a trip-support specialist, “but they are best dealt with through preparation. So timeliness is one of the key issues that we have with our operators.”
Universal asks clients to inform them as soon as possible of any operations to the U.S. and the destinations. That is important, he said, because some customs offices are stricter than others. Also, Transportation Security Administration waivers are becoming more difficult to obtain overnight. Typically they take several days now, said Lira.
Foreign operators traveling from south of the 38th parallel also are challenged by border overflight regulations. Lira said that to get around this, the company can request a border overflight exemption. But the biggest challenges remain ensuring that everyone on board the aircraft has a U.S. visa and that the aircraft has a TSA waiver.
“The general rule is that if they are prepared, they are [approved],” said Lira. “If they are ill-prepared they might encounter some challenges. There might also be some issues beyond their control within the TSA,” such as a change in the regulations governing fleet-waiver applications, which have been revised several times in the past year.
If application rules change, said Lira, then in a very short period of time the operator has to start over and resubmit. “This is beyond the operator’s control, and it’s beyond the service provider’s control,” he said. “So it’s best to have preparation and a good relationship with the TSA office so that we are able to overcome that.”
According to the Universal official, “Companies that do use a service provider, or prepare themselves or have several days or more than a week’s notice, are generally able to operate into the U.S. without any difficulty.”
Air Routing v-p Tim Maystrik said that in addition to TSA waivers, sometimes the FAA needs to get involved to approve the routing. “Sometimes the TSA can just grant everything and your schedule is OK as is,” he said. “We have Russian operators that come in from time to time and we have to hear from the TSA, and then separately we end up hearing from an FAA air traffic specialist who says, ‘Yeah, they can go to destinations on these routes,’ or ‘Nope, we need them to change the routes because the routings you have are not authorized for foreign operators.’”
He said that usually affects operators from countries other than those the TSA has designated as portals, where corporate operators have to land before they come back to the U.S. Business aircraft travelers who typically depart from the UK, Canada and other such closely allied countries would still need a TSA waiver, but they would not necessarily need to get a separate authorization for the routing.
“When you get into a Part 135-type operation it is really difficult,” Maystrik said. “You have to submit an application for a foreign aircraft permit or special authorization to the DOT.” He added that it helps to have somebody in Washington who can “make sure the Is are dotted and the Ts are crossed. They can help expedite it, and it still could take maybe a week or so. If not, it could take 30 days.”
Maystrik said that it usually takes only three days at most for Air Routing to get a charter permit for a U.S. operator going to Europe. With some countries it takes longer, such as Japan, which could take up to 10 days, but typically there is great flexibility.
“European charter operators coming to the U.S. are certainly affected,” said Maystrik, “and they are not too happy about that, as you can imagine.”
He said this disparity is causing Europeans to take a second look at U.S. fractional companies, such as NetJets, contending they are looking more and more like a charter operation because there is not an individual owner or a company representative who is flying on the aircraft. If the Europeans determine it is a charter operation, the fractional operator would be forced to get a permit every time one of its aircraft moved within Europe.
“For a NetJets-type operation that likes to go at a moment’s notice, that could be detrimental to business,” said Maystrik. “And part of what we’ve heard is, ‘You guys aren’t making it any easier for our charter operators to go to the States, so why should we do anything for you guys?’”