Dubai Air Show

Middle East Business Aviation: Flight planners like the Gulf

 - December 6, 2006, 1:06 PM

Perhaps contrary to the impressions of outsiders, flying business aircraft into and within the Middle East is not difficult. At least that seems to be the consensus of those who arrange planning and handling for international flight operations in this part of the world.

In fact, according to Chris Harley, master trip support specialist at Universal Weather & Aviation, “The Middle East is actually one of the most flexible, friendliest places in which to fly.”

Nelson Burns, a dispatcher at Air Routing International in Houston, agrees. “You know where you’re coming from and you know where you’re going, and after that, the planning is a pretty simple matter.

“But as with anywhere else in the world, good planning in the Middle East makes for a good trip; there are always rules and consequences if one ignores them,” he said.

“There are few direct airways into the Middle East from Europe, and those that exist are published on the charts. Otherwise, strict adherence to the airway structure prevails,” said Harley, who further noted that authorities take airspace violations very seriously and consequences for those com- mitting violations could include future restrictions or loss of license endorsement.

Applicants seeking overflight permission for most countries in the Middle East should allow two or three days to acquire clearances, except for Saudi Arabia, which requires four days. Most countries readily issue arrival and departure permits with little fuss.

For the most part, air traffic controllers in the region are well trained and have an excellent command of English. Airport run- ways are long and well maintained, and fees are reasonable. Compared with some parts of the world, fuel costs remain equally reasonable. For the time being, Stage II noise restrictions do not apply.

Reduced vertical separation minimums have gone into effect over the entire Middle East. In general, VHF coverage proves adequate until you hit the African continent. At that point, prepare to make more frequent position reports. Several years ago a Bombardier Learjet was shot down when its crew reportedly strayed into hostile airspace over the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Some maps show a questionable boundary between Saudi Arabia and Yemen at the south end of the Arabian Peninsula. However, according to Universal Weather, while the border may look undefined on the ground, air control of the area is quite specific.

Charts clearly show overflight restrictions. Iraqi airspace, of course, remains restricted and security concerns make overflight permission more difficult to get.

The location of Iraq has made air routing somewhat more difficult in the Middle East, prompting some U.S. operators on great circle routes to fly over Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran instead. This makes a convenient approach to most of the major Arabian Gulf destinations in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Libya allows corporate jet overflights; however, U.S. citizens need a U.S. Treasury Department license. Except for Part 135 charter operators, U.S.-registered aircraft need a landing permit, which may take as long as 45 days to obtain.

Israel Is Operational Headache

The tension between Israel and many of the other Middle East countries causes perhaps the biggest headache while flying in the Middle East. Only Jordan and Egypt will accept direct flights from Israel. Some Middle Eastern countries will not only refuse arrival of any direct flight from Israel, they will also refuse the departure of any aircraft on a direct flight to Israel.

Some countries in the Middle East, among them Sudan and Tanzania, will not allow the overflight of any aircraft that departed directly from Israel. Iran will not allow the overflight of aircraft en route to Israel.

It isn’t as common as it once was, but business aircraft flights originating in Israel sometimes will file for Larnaca, Cyprus, and while en route will refile to their Middle East destination. Likewise, pilots en route to Israel from certain Middle East countries would use Larnaca as an intermediate destination. According to one confidential source in the flight planning community, Cypriot officials have caught on to the ruse and have begun requiring the aircraft to land at Larnaca Airport before continuing on to Israel in accordance with the new flight plan.

Don’t even think about overflying Israel. The country’s defense forces take any airspace violation very seriously. While Israel does not restrict direct flights from Middle Eastern countries, it allows them only from some 40 approved airports. At the point of departure, aircrews should prepare to answer a lot of questions regarding their nationality, reasons for the trip and what countries they plan to fly over en route to Israel. It also subjects passengers to similar interrogation.

In general, travel to and from the Middle East requires “a bit more focus” than when visiting other regions of the world, said Air Routing’s Burns. He added, however, problems are few and easily dealt with.

Harley agreed, noting considerable improvements just in the past couple of years.