International Operations

 - April 30, 2007, 6:43 AM

“Business aviation operators are becoming much more sophisticated about the ways they can use their airplanes outside the United States,” said Bill Stine, NBAA’s director of international operations and the man behind the curtain for the association’s annual International Operators Conference (IOC), held this year in San Diego. The event serves as a primer on international operations topics but is not intended to serve as a substitute for more concise international training.

Don Rust, an international captain at Qualcomm, sees the IOC as a place to hear about “all those things related to international flying I wish someone had told me before.”

The issues of safety and security, mainstays at the annual conference, become ever more important as more U.S. operators elect to go abroad. The increasing hassles of airline travel, combined with the regularly changing security concerns for executives who often sit in the front of an airliner, have continued to create opportunities for business aviation.

“We have never kept records of where our members go,” Stine said, “but anecdotally we know more and more of them are regularly operating internationally. There are also many more aircraft capable of 6,500-nm legs than before.” One pilot AIN spoke with at the conference flies a G550 and a Global Express for a Midwestern company that logs nearly 1,400 hours annually, more than 75 percent of which is international flying.

While there are few hard-and-fast numbers for how many business airplanes travel outside the U.S., some organizations, such as the UK’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS) and Eurocontrol, show total traffic rising each year well ahead of forecasts. The most recent data from NATS says business aviation flights have grown nearly 9 percent. NATS figures in January show transatlantic arrivals and departures up by nearly 8 percent over the same period in 2006, with overflights soaring 18.2 percent during the same time frame.

NATS operational safety expert Steve McKie said, “Business aviation is our real growth area. It comprises 22 percent of the traffic at Farnborough and 12.6 percent at London City Airport. I don’t think we fully understand the impact it can and will have just yet.”

At Maastricht Upper Area Control in the Netherlands (part of Eurocontrol), traffic in the Benelux countries and northwest Germany rose almost 6 percent last year compared with the previous year. Eurocontrol also reports daily traffic up just over 20 percent since 2002 and running well ahead of forecasts for this year. But with the increases in traffic in Europe come delays. Eurocontrol says average airport delays have climbed 5.9 percent over last year. European airports are making plans to address the increased traffic. London Luton, for example, introduced slot requirements in March.

Adalberto Febeliano, executive director of ABAG, Brazil’s general aviation association, said, “Business aviation is growing in Brazil and in Argentina. All major manufacturers reported strong sales last year, and they could be even better if delivery times weren’t so long. International traffic from the U.S. is strong, as usual.

“The strike by air traffic controllers in Brazil, and the transition from the military to a civilian structure in Argentina, are making it a little difficult for aircraft operators to fly freely. Until the government and the air traffic controllers can reach an agreement on new wages and work conditions, delays are to be expected in all phases of flight.”

Air traffic in other regions of the world is up as well, except in Africa, according to Marc Baumgartner, president of the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations. “We see traffic rising about four percent globally and estimate that worldwide traffic will double by 2020, but much more in some areas. Asia, for example, is growing about 10 to 15 percent annually. Traffic in the Middle East is rising at 10 to 15 percent each year.”

Although Baumgartner sees traffic as steady in South America, he reminded pilots of the dangers of flying in Brazil, concerns brought home last year when an Embraer Legacy and a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 collided over the Amazon rainforest. “The ATC infrastructure in Brazil, such as radio and radar, is not adequate for the amount of traffic,” he said. He asserted that little has changed since the September 2006 collision.

Brazilian charter pilot Andre Ribeiro, a speaker at the conference, had a different view: “I feel safe when flying throughout Brazil. Because of the midair collision over the rainforest, the ATC system is ready to make the switch from military control to civilian.” Since the IOC, however, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has decided the switch to civilian control will require more planning than originally thought and is currently on hold.

The European Community continues to march ahead of the U.S. technologically in the search for ATC solutions. But operating costs there are also on the rise and, according to Stine, are hindering the growth of business aviation in the region. The rule requiring enhanced mode-S for all aircraft traveling to Europe took effect in March. Some exemptions will be granted until March next year. Mode-S enhanced data lets controllers match an aircraft’s clearance altitude to what the crew has set in the aircraft’s altitude alerter, as well as displaying heading and indicated airspeed.

For years Air Training International president Dave Stohr has been foretelling the exclusion of aircraft traversing the North Atlantic to Europe that are not equipped with automatic dependent surveillance contract (ADS-C) and controller pilot datalink communications (CPDLC) equipment. “If you don’t have the toys, you won’t be able to play in the sandbox,” Stohr has often said. The problem has been that ADS-C and CPDLC equipment has not been available for business airplanes other than Fans-equipped aircraft such as the BBJ, which inherited the technology from the Boeing 737.

Honeywell announced at the IOC this year that it plans to have a working ADS-C upgrade for the G450 and G550 by the third quarter and estimates a working CPDLC by the end of next year. Similar equipment should be out for the Global by the middle of next year and for Dassault airplanes by early the following year. Rockwell Collins hopes to roll out its ADS-C equipment in 2009.

With 70 percent of airlines communicating by CPDLC over the North Atlantic, Stohr was glad to hear about the new technology coming to business aircraft. “The added capabilities the technology brings are important, but to me the ability to communicate quickly over the water has always been a safety issue,” he said, reminding pilots of the difficulty of getting good ATC over antiquated HF radios.

Navigational Errors
Discussion about international flight operations always includes the subject of gross navigational errors (GNE) since business aviation continues to be involved in more of these mistakes than airliners flying the tracks across the North Atlantic. The good news for the future is that most business aircraft are capable of flying at altitudes above the tracks–higher than FL390–which allows them to fly more random routings to and from Europe. However, that doesn’t eliminate the cockpit confusion that seems to be a major cause of GNEs in the first place.

A GNE is defined as an aircraft straying more than 25 miles off course laterally. That’s essentially the same as being cleared direct ORD from the east and passing abeam the world’s busiest airport north of the Wisconsin state line…pretty serious stuff. Paul Spooner from NATS in Prestwick, Scotland, said that peak-period eastbound traffic spurts bring as many as 120 aircraft per hour across the North Atlantic.

He reports there were “thirty-two GNEs in 2005, with two close enough to categorize as near collisions.” Stohr said, “Thirteen of the 32 were from general aviation and eight of those 13 were from business aviation.” Spooner added, “One of the most interesting responses we regularly hear when we call a crew’s
attention to an error is that someone on the ground hasn’t been paying attention.”

Spooner says the most common cause of GNEs is a crew’s failure, after manually entering a flight plan in the FMS, to cross check those entries for errors. If a NATS controller notices an error before the situation gets out of hand, it might simply be classified as an intervention. Spooner said that of the 127 interventions last year, most were attributable to cockpit error.

However, pilot error was not the only factor. Precise centerline navigation can produce serious consequences. In an attempt to prevent a midair over the North Atlantic, pilots are offered the option of a strategic lateral offset procedure (Slop), which introduces a random track error to add an extra margin of safety.

Although introducing error seems counter-intuitive to navigation, it is not. Flying one or two miles to the right of course while in the tracks can offer just enough margin to prevent a collision should other measures fall short. One word of caution about Slops: it is the crew’s responsibility to return to an on-course indication before the airplane leaves the tracks and enters domestic airspace at either end of the trip.

Equally significant, but less widely publicized than lateral errors, are altitude busts.
NATS’ McKie at the Shanwick facility said a bust is an excursion of more than 300 feet from the assigned altitude. He added, “Causes are often as simple as inputting the wrong altimeter setting or following up a correct clearance readback with an incorrect action. Altitude busts are rising. NATS recorded 303 in 2004 and 560 last year. Twenty-five percent of business jet incidents in the UK involve altitude busts.
Forty percent of altitude busts also involve some communication error. All those numbers are on the rise. Last year 35 were considered safety significant, and 11 of them were considered very serious.” McKie believes some of the incident increases might be tied to one NATS strategy: better event reporting.

A few UK-specific procedures could well be adding to the problem, however. First, transition altitudes vary around the region. There were also 103 runway incursions at 15 NATS-run UK airports, with the greatest number at London Heathrow. Another issue under investigation related to runway incursions is NATS’ use of conditional clearances. The unintended result is that separation responsibility is ceded to the pilots. For example, “Falcon 123M, after the landing Boeing 737, line up and hold” appears to pass separation responsibility into the cockpit when that was not the intention.

Eric Rodriguez, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer, illustrated the importance of following department rules to keep the world’s skies safe. He asked operators to recognize that it is important how the Department of Homeland Security might perceive a flight department’s actions or inactions. For those cases in which an operator runs afoul of the government, he suggested that extra paperwork to the DHS might help a company appear to be doing more than its fair share. “You can’t put a price on security,” Rodriguez claimed, although the DHS does fine operators $5,000 per incident for a mistake.

Rodriguez said Customs and Border Patrol intends to ramp up the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS), for which he serves as national account manager. The system demands that commercial operators, including business airplanes carrying people for hire to and from the U.S., electronically transmit manifests of the crew and passengers to CBP, as well as additional personal information in advance of the arrival or departure of the aircraft. “This [APIS] is fixing to get big,” said Universal Weather’s Laura Everington.

Other APIS-type manifest systems are expected to begin appearing in Europe soon. For example, an APIS-like service–Caricom–is currently up and running in the Caribbean. Although APIS currently applies only to commercial operators, it is not clear whether the DHS ramp up might soon include similar manifest demands for Part 91 aircraft.

Personal security takes many shapes. Longtime overseas expert and pilot Roger Rose from International Pilot Services has a witticism that explains the best defense possible when flying anywhere: “When you’re in the jungle, don’t look like lunch.”

What would you do if your flight through the Middle East was offered a routing over Iran or Iraq, for example? Some pilots might choose Iraq because they know who runs the airspace, while others might take the shorter route through Iran. In light of the detainment of British soldiers for two weeks last month, consider the options if a flight was forced to divert while passing seven miles over the top of Tehran.

Offering a variety of practical thoughts on aviation security in the new age, Steve Kellner, chief of security for ASI Group, said that despite “travelers being smarter and better prepared for travel overseas today, terrorists are gaining higher casualty numbers with fewer overall incidents because they are using much less sophisticated weapons.

“The motivation is often simple. Kidnapping or killing Americans puts people on the front pages of the media.” That means soft targets such as hotels and shopping centers are easy and much more vulnerable than ever.

Beyond Terrorism

Although terrorist incidents are on everyone’s radar, Kellner thinks international crime poses a greater threat. “Americans are used to a certain due process of justice, and that doesn’t necessarily exist in other parts of the world where democracy went away long ago.”

Kellner emphasized how important it is for U.S. citizens traveling abroad to register with the regional security officers at the nearest U.S. Embassy after arrival so that someone else has an idea of who you are and where you are. While executives like a little time alone when they are out of the U.S., simply disappearing into the crowds for a few hours is unacceptable, Kellner said. A country can be stable one day and completely unstable the next as Americans in Lebanon learned last year. What is the plan to get out quickly if needed?

Other pragmatic security questions to consider include determining whether the country in question is friendly to American business in general. It is not enough to examine only the threat profile within a country; operators should also study how a country views a particular industry. Make sure you have written confirmation for all travel plans.

At this year’s conference Qualcomm’s Rust provided a comprehensive look at a number of significant destinations, including China. That nation will host the 2008 summer Olympics, and those attending had better begin making plans now.

Rust said the airlines are already making their needs known. “While the Chinese are planning for the Olympic surge of people, they are not likely to be tolerant of poor planning techniques. More local handlers are becoming familiar with business aviation, but their expertise with English is poor in some of the outlying areas. But be patient,” Rust said. “These people want to learn.”

Crews can expect major airports such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen to look and operate similarly to traditional Western tastes. “They’re busy and controllers have a good command of English, although pilots should be alert for controllers speaking to locals in Mandarin,” Rust said. Chinese ATC is run by the military. NBAA’s Stine said the military there doesn’t simply run the airspace; rather, it “owns the airspace and tells the civilian flying side what they will and will not do.”

SIDs are common and direct routings in China should not be expected, so those traveling to the country should take extra fuel for what might well be circuitous travel. “We were recently started down 500 miles from our destination,” Rust added. “You must tell them if they ask for something that causes a problem. They do understand the term minimum fuel.” He added that while the Letter of Introduction is no longer required, it can still be useful. Allow at least 15 working days to get the required paperwork in order before the trip begins.

In Africa, business flying is still difficult in many locations, especially considering the half dozen or so regional conflicts occurring at any given time. Mark McIntyre, chief pilot for Mente, told pilots to expect poor to non-existent infrastructure, political instability and, with only a few exceptions, an overall unfamiliarity with business aviation. He added that distances between destinations can be great; for example, Marrakech to Cape Town is 4,200 nm.

In-flight broadcast procedures on 126.9 to cover for poor ATC operations were born in Africa. McIntyre suggests the following broadcast format: “All stations, this is Falcon November 123 Golf Foxtrot at Flight Level 370, southbound London to Nairobi along Upper Amber 727. We estimate position KTM at 1045 and estimate gangi at 1056. Falcon November 123 Golf Foxtrot at Flight Level 370 southbound London to Nairobi via Upper Amber 727.”

For travel in Africa, McIntyre’s company security people make a threat assessment of possible landing sites and rank them for each trip as 1 (OK to land), 2 (landing not recommended) and 3 (do not land). This preview of the available airports makes the decision-making process easier if things heat up during an emergency. On a recent flight from Lisbon to Cape Town, Mente security people rated Morocco and certain portions of Algeria as acceptable for landing, Libya and Nigeria as not recommended and Chad and the Central African Republic as essentially off limits.

McIntyre reminded pilots that navaids in Africa are seldom up to Western standards. In fact, many have been ground checked only. Not all countries in Africa subscribe to WGS-84 standards, which means the navaids on the ground might not all use the same reference points, a disturbing prospect during an IFR approach in rugged terrain.

Another suggestion is to apply for overflight permits well before departure time and carefully inspect the documents received. Plan to keep the permits handy in the cockpit during the flight in case an issue pops up. In the event of a weather or mechanical diversion, it might be a good idea to have permits for adjacent countries along the route.

The IOC also urged operators to reconsider plans to visit Italy in a business airplane. More so than many other countries in Europe, Italy gives considerable preference to the airlines over private flights. For private flights prior permission is required at most airports. Eight airports in the country have dedicated private aviation terminals, but parking is limited and often dictates that aircraft be repositioned to other airports. No Stage 2 aircraft are allowed, and pilots over the age of 60 can currently overfly the country but not land there.

Rose articulated some of the difficult issues he confronts with other international pilots he flies with or listens to on the radio. “First is complacency,” Rose said. “I see a wide variety of operators from IS-BAO-certified companies often hanging on by their navigational nails in flight. Among a disturbing percentage of U.S.-licensed airmen, there seems to be an attitude that modern FMSs and navigational displays obviate the need for fundamentals of navigation, such as plotting charts.

“Next is over confidence. I see a similar percentage of folks who seem to operate with cognizance only of FAA and TERPS. FAR 91.703 tells U.S. licensed airmen to comply with ICAO and other foreign regulations. How many pilots do you know who read the “State Pages” of their Jeppesen coverage (ATC and emergency) despite the fact that they might never have operated to or over that country or in that airspace for some time?

“Finally, poor communications. Our FCC has no PTS [practical test standard] for licensure apart from being able to produce $75 in one of three forms: cash, check or credit card. According to FAR 91.703 we must comply, but there is no guidance beyond those brief paragraphs, so it falls to the airman to educate himself and be able to function without overloading a controller whose mother tongue is likely not English. I cringe when listening to a U.S. pilot stumble through a non-radar position report or (more critically) responding to a ‘line up and wait’ with, ‘Rog, position and hold.’”  

'International Operators' PDF