With urging of NBAA, U.S. eases rules for foreign charter operators

 - November 7, 2006, 7:47 AM

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has moved to ease restrictions on access to U.S. skies for foreign charter operators. It will increase to 12 (from six) the number of flights any one operator can make per year into the country before having to apply for a Part 129 foreign carrier certificate, and address applications on an ad hoc basis pending a permanent rule change that could take another two years to implement.

The compromise, brokered by NBAA, has prompted European officials to press ahead with plans to introduce new private operating rules for fractional ownership companies. These would be similar to the U.S. Part 91 Subpart K rules and are now being drafted by a working group of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) for eventual adoption by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

According to the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), the DOT’s long-awaited relaxation of its rules represents a significant olive branch for a European industry that has been deeply frustrated by what it views as intransigent U.S. protectionism. Europe has no such restrictions on U.S. charter companies flying into Europe.

NBAA president Ed Bolen told AIN that it is now pushing DOT officials to speed up the processing time for foreign operators applying for flight permits. But the FAA, which processes these permits, is still not willing to move faster than the current seven-day period, and foreign operators say this delay makes it impractical to accept ad hoc charter bookings. Flight permits for U.S. operators going into Europe are routinely turned around in just one day.

EBAA chief executive Brian Humphries said that his members will welcome the DOT compromise. He reported that an October 6 meeting of the ECAC working group, which includes industry representatives, had agreed to push forward the new private fractional rules “subject to tight operational and insurance requirements.” He also indicated that EBAA had threatened to withdraw its support for new private rules for fractionals in Europe if NBAA did not get the U.S. government to make some concessions.

However, some in the European industry do not think the U.S. has gone far enough in levelling the competitive playing field. David Savile, chief executive of  charter broker Air Partner International, told AIN that the additional six flights the DOT is allowing European charter operators represents no more than “a drop in the ocean.”

Savile also claimed that the introduction of private rules for fractional ownership would largely help the industry’s most powerful player, NetJets, achieve market dominance in Europe. He said that the greater operational flexibility allowed by the private rules would place charter firms at a serious competitive disadvantage.