Restrictions add time, cost to overseas flights

 - October 2, 2007, 12:14 PM

In the fallout from September 11, the FAA has placed tight travel restrictions on Part 91 operators flying from the U.S. to overseas destinations, while simultaneously prohibiting most foreign-registered private airplanes from landing at U.S. airports without first gaining clearance from the White House.

Business aircraft operators in the U.S. who have made international trips since the attacks report that the restrictions have added time and cost to international flights. While most agree the added hassle is understandable in light of the need for additional air security in U.S. airspace, some aviation experts question whether the restrictions are needed at all.

According to notam 0628, one of a handful of FAA notices passed down in the wake of the attacks, U.S.-registered Part 91 operators are authorized to conduct IFR operations from U.S. airports to and from the following countries only: Japan, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas and the UK. When flying to and from these countries, pilots must operate IFR the entire flight, make no intermediate stops and “comply with all U.S. customs notifications and requirements to land at U.S. airports designated as ports of entry,” according to the notam.

After landing in any one of these countries, U.S.-registered aircraft may fly on to other destinations. For example, this means that if a Gulfstream IV were to depart the U.S. for England, it could continue on to France or Germany after landing in the UK and requesting a new flight plan. With the exception of operations from Canada, aircraft in most cases do not even need to clear customs before continuing.

Several crews report having used Montreal Dorval International Airport (CYUL) as a launching pad for international flights, with crews saying they received excellent service from FBOs SkyService and AeroCentre, despite crowded ramps at Dorval.
Within Canada, a major change for returning flights is that the U.S. Customs’ General Aviation Telephonic Entry (GATE) system has been suspended. GATE had allowed pilots simply to telephone in their entry into the U.S. from Canada rather than landing after crossing the border. Canada Customs, meanwhile, is requiring Part 91 operators to call ahead for permission to enter Canada, and to check in with Canpass after arriving and being cleared by Canada Customs.

As far as operations to and from the U.S. by foreign-registered aircraft are concerned, in most cases only aircraft registered in Canada or Mexico may fly to the U.S. and its territories. Other foreign-registered aircraft already in the U.S. may leave the U.S. and fly directly to their destinations with no intermediate stop, but it’s a one-way ticket–meaning that once a foreign-registered aircraft leaves the U.S., in most instances it cannot return.

The exception is in cases where the FAA has contacted the White House’s National Security Council to gain specific permission for a foreign aircraft to land within the U.S., which has happened on only a handful of occasions since September 11. Bill Stine, chairman of NBAA’s international operations committee, said the association has set up a process whereby it will serve as a clearinghouse for such requests. However, Stine questioned whether the restrictions, imposed on the FAA by the White House, indeed increase security.

“The Bahamas are included on the list of places U.S. operators are told they may fly before continuing on to their destinations,” said Stine. “I’m not sure the Bahamas are really all that secure, especially when compared with countries in Western Europe.”

Stine went on to say that a number of business aircraft operators have expressed anxiety over operating internationally with N-registered tail numbers for fear of attacks while operating in foreign countries. On the other hand, said Stine, a number of U.S. operators who have registered their airplanes with offshore countries are now considering registering in the U.S. so that they may fly within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other parts of the world.

Despite the worries, observers believe some of the more burdensome restrictions could be lifted in the next month or so.

When the FAA and the National Security Council hammered out the rules governing international flight operations, aircraft registered in Canada initially were the only foreign operators allowed to land in the U.S.

Soon after, Mexico sent a diplomatic letter to the State Department protesting that such a restriction gave an unfair advantage to Canada over Mexico, both of which are parties to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta. The White House relented by adding Mexico alongside Canada as the only two countries from which private aircraft are permitted to operate unrestricted to the U.S.

Following this decision, the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) wrote a form letter similar in tone to Mexico’s objection, which it gave to member countries in the hopes they would send it to the White House. While nobody, not even the FAA, seems willing to pinpoint how long the international flight restrictions will remain in effect, Stine said he believes it will be only a matter of time before business jet operators in countries such as the UK, Japan and Germany will be allowed to land at U.S. airports.

Travel Warnings
As tensions over the possibility of further acts of aggression against the U.S. and its citizens continue, the State Department has emphasized travel warnings for the following countries, saying each represents a potential for “serious problems” for travelers: Afghanistan, Fiji, Guinea Bissau, Lebanon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan and Tajikistan.

In addition, the State Department in September issued a blanket travel warning to U.S. citizens, in which it said the U.S. government is “deeply concerned” about the security of Americans overseas.

“Following the attacks on September 11, we have continuing concern based on threatening rhetoric from extremist groups and the potential for further terrorist actions against American citizens and interests,” the warning reads. “In this environment of increased tension and concern, [the State Department] urges Americans to review their circumstances carefully and to take any measures they deem necessary to ensure their personal safety.”

Air Security International of Houston advises business jet crews should be aware of all warnings issued by the State Department for the overseas areas to which they plan to fly, and to exercise extra caution in the months ahead.