If international flight operations were complicated after 9/11, they are certain to become even more difficult now in view of the U.S.-led war against Iraq. Ironically enough, the conflict began during the middle of NBAA’s 30th International Operators Conference (IOC), held in Colorado Springs, Colo. in mid-March, just a stone’s throw away from the massive Cheyenne Mountain headquarters of NORAD. NBAA reports approximately 465 aviation professionals registered for the event.
Jerry Norton, aviation director for Honeywell and this year’s IOC chairman, said, “We come together with a nation on the brink of war and the airlines on the brink of crisis. We [business aviation], though, are enjoying a healthy period of international flying that is still growing by leaps and bounds. This conference should not be confused with recurrent training for international procedures, however. We’re here to pass on knowledge and experience that will prevent you from making the same mistake someone else did and provide the information necessary to learn what is happening in cockpits and aviation departments around the world.” The IOC is organized as a series of day-long seminars designed to mix experienced aviators with industry leaders on the wide range of topics necessary to fly beyond U.S. borders.
During the first evening’s networking event, hundreds of aviation department managers and crews, as well as vendors, stood huddled around televisions strategically placed in the Lake Terrace room of the Broadmoor Hotel to listen to President Bush tell the world that the attack was coming. Everyone in the crowd knew full well that flying anywhere on the face of the earth had just become more difficult. Not surprisingly, for a group of professional aviators, most were in favor of the action the President planned to take, with many questioning why the deadline had taken so long to evolve. Two nights later, the first ordnance landed in Baghdad, in search of Saddam Hussein. Aviation security expert and Air Routing International CEO Issy Boim said, “We should expect that aviation in the post-war world will never again be the same…anywhere.”
As many of the nation’s airlines teeter on the brink of financial disaster, nowhere has business aviation reaped the benefits more than on the international flying front. And as executives find the need to travel more, despite the gloomy economy, business aviation has again proved itself to be a welcome life raft, offering corporate employees access to a form of travel over which their company can maintain at least some form of control, despite the fact that security concerns have become even more urgent.
Most crews AIN interviewed said their international flying component had increased significantly, although actual numbers are difficult to verify. One Westchester, N.Y.- based pilot said his company had moved up to a fleet of two Challengers and taken on more international flying during the past year as a direct result of 9/11. A Midwest Falcon 900 operator said his international flying was up by 15 percent, but added that trips were being canceled due to the war with Iraq. Another West Coast Challenger captain confessed, “Flying an aircraft of U.S. registry can open the door to problems overseas.”
In the 2002 NBAA Compensation and Benchmarking study, the vast majority of the 532 companies, that responded said they now fly internationally. Those companies operate 1,323 aircraft. The smallest percentage of members flying outside the U.S., at 72.1 percent, was listed as those companies with sales of between $100 million and $500 million. In the 2000 study, that figure was 62 percent, showing a 10-percent jump in the past two years.
The largest group of international business flyers are corporations with sales between $5 billion and $10 billion, with some 93.5 percent of company respondents using business aircraft for international trips in 2002 versus 86 percent in 2000–for another significant rise. Ninety three percent of those corporations surveyed operated fleets of five or more aircraft, an increase of five percent since 2000. NBAA’s director of international operations, Bill Stine, cautioned that the study “does not represent our entire universe of operations however.”
But making the jump to Paris or Beijing is not the same as filling the tanks and heading for Louisville, Ky. or Denver, with issues of complex foreign airspace, customs, immigration, navigation and human factors related to aircrew performance on long flights. Under Part 91, however, no training is actually required for international operations, so technically a Falcon 900 crew could depart Teterboro Airport, N.J. for London with only a minimal idea of exactly what might be required of them during their journey outside U.S. airspace.
Dave Stohr, president of Air Training International, explained, “The issuance of a Letter of Authorization to a Part 91 operator (required before the first international flight) is covered in the FAA Inspector’s Handbook 8700.1 Chapter 222. This provides the Principal Operations Inspector (POI) with the necessary guidance to review the application and issue the LOA. The chapter discusses crew knowledge, but never crew training. In the application, there is a statement to be completed by the operator stating who provided the crew training. An acceptable answer here is none.” Part 135 operators, however, are “required to train in accordance with their approved training manual.”
Most of the major training organizations–FlightSafety International, Air Training International, Air Routing and SimuFlite–offer courses of between two and four days covering most of the major topics necessary to make a crew feel relatively comfortable before their first hop across the ocean. In the end, however, taking along a qualified international contract pilot can be an easy solution to an international crew’s hesitance at making the first crossing alone.
Roger Rose, president of International Pilot Services and never a man to mince words, opened the door to another little publicized issue, namely the Restricted Radio Telephone permit that is currently required only for crews flying outside the U.S. “To begin with,” Rose said, “there is no practical skill standard for a U.S.-issued radio permit as there is in just about every other country in the world. We have never, in fact, had a skill or theory requirement, or anything that says we actually understand ICAO flying procedures–and it shows. I still hear a complete incomprehension of ICAO phraseology for instance. Here in the states, controllers use ‘taxi into position and hold.’ Almost everywhere else, it’s ‘line up and wait.’ Only one international procedures training company I know of even has plans to look at this kind of detail. But honestly, every bit of training is better than none. I’m shocked at what I learn that I did not know sometimes. Recurrent education should be ongoing, and the day it stops, so should we.”
Service With a Smile
Many flight crews report that planning an international flight consumes two or three times more effort than a domestic trip, “since every country in the world has a different set of procedures and requirements for operating in and out of that region,” according to Keith Dixon, manager of flight planning for Universal Weather & Aviation. “And those requirements can change at any time with little room for error. Using the services of an international trip support service provider allows the operator to concentrate on the operations side of the trip rather than the logistical aspects. An error in any of the planning aspects, such as on flight plans, weather briefings, ground handling, fuel arrangements, credit, overflight and landing permits, slots, ground transportation, catering, visas, security or hotel accommodations can create a litany of problems resulting in inconvenienced or possibly detained passengers.”
Many large flight departments have schedulers to help with the arrangements. But with the complexity of customs, immigration and ATC issues such as overflight and landing permits, even large flight departments have found it more efficient to tap a service provider such as Universal, Colt International, Jeppessen or Air Routing to handle the dozens of specifics. Service providers offer international trip support and understand the drill of how to make a flight run smoothly because they plan trips to Africa once or twice a week, rather than just once a year as many operators might. They also help keep passengers in the loop about the customs of countries they’ll be stopping in, especially important during a time of highly increased security concerns for anyone flying an N-registered aircraft.
One service provider related the story of helping a client whose aircraft experienced an engine failure on approach to a Central American city. The provider had the manufacturing rep for the aircraft on the scene within an hour and also smoothed the replacement engine’s journey through customs. The aircraft was airborne within 72 hours of the incident. Service providers also keep tabs on where credit works to complete a flight and where sizable amounts of U.S. currency work better. The key is always to make sure the U.S. bills you bring are crisp new bills, too.
Dixon suggested, “Pilots new to international flying should make certain their service provider has the experience and knowledge to make the flight a success. Questions you may want to consider when choosing a service provider include, ‘What is the experience level of the specialists handling your trip? Can you build a personal relationship with the people you work with? Will the specialists be familiar with your preferences and needs? How long has the company been in business? What is their reputation in the industry? Do they have global resources and relationships available worldwide? And most important, can they deliver what they offer?’”
The overall goal is to relieve the crew of the necessary work to stay ahead of the incidental details of each country they travel to and give them the opportunity to manage the flight, their primary responsibility. Most service providers work on either a fee per trip or a monthly retainer.
Security Concerns High
Rose acknowledged, “The world has become more dangerous, and the exact nature of those dangers is still to be defined. N-registered aircraft will see those dangers first and need to be ready. A small but significant number of companies may decide to register their aircraft in countries outside the United States.” Charlie LeBlanc, managing director of Air Security International, added, “We can no longer simply say we are a secure industry. We now need to document it. Your corporate security department needs to be your ally in this effort.”
Boim added, “The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is designed to protect the nation, not necessarily help corporate operators. They are trying to make certain that no general aviation aircraft is used as a weapon. When the war is over in Iraq, you’ll see that we will no longer be able to leave aircraft unguarded on any ramp.” Not surprisingly, Boim sees the flight crew as a soft target and their transportation to and from the airport as one of the most sensitive areas under discussion. “Companies need to begin using professional drivers who can also function as security personnel. By kidnapping the crew, attackers can command the aircraft.” Boim also cautioned, “Hotel selection can no longer be based upon price or location alone. Those locations must be secure as well.” He added that the ground floor or roof-floor rooms, as well as those close to elevators, are the least secure in any hotel.
The definition of protection has also been the subject of much recent discussion as crews wrestle with the issue of what to ask for to keep their aircraft and personnel safe. Boim explained “Guarding is not necessarily protection. Protection means using some physical means to protect an aircraft while guarding simply implies a deterrent, such as an alarm system.” LeBlanc said, “Most security practices are written in Jell-O. Essentially, we can assume nothing when it comes to the TSA. We have no clue what they want. But it is time to make friends with your local federal security director by inviting them into our world. The goal of terrorists is to ruin capitalist countries, and they see corporate aviation as a symbol of the western economy. But we must avoid airline-type practices being dumped on Part 91 and 135 operations.”
As in the U.S., airports in other parts of the world are dealing with security issues as quickly as possible when a perceived threat arises. AerRianta’s (Gaelic for AirWays) business development manager at the Republic of Ireland’s Shannon Airport, Lorraine Grainger, said that Shannon, normally considered primarily a transient airline field, handled more than 3,000 business aircraft last year.
With intense Western ties to the “Celtic Tiger Economy,” it is certainly no surprise that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have seen their fair share of protests against the U.S.-led war in Iraq, since the nearby UK is well represented in the conflict. On January 29, in fact, a small number of demonstrators hopped the fence at Shannon Airport and began to hack away at the fuselage of a U.S. military C-40 (Boeing 737). The demonstrators were “quickly arrested by local police after only 90 seconds at the aircraft,” according to Grainger. While Shannon Airport was hardly considered a major security risk at the time of the attacks, since the field’s 7.5-mile perimeter was surrounded by an eight-foot-high fence topped with razor wire, the Irish airport authority quickly realized it needed to take additional action to prevent further incursions.
“Because it was so unusual for anything like this to happen in Shannon, it sent shock waves throughout both Aer Rianta and the nation, prompting our rapid and extensive response to review and enhance security,” Grainger explained. “Irish government security consultants working together with U.S. Embassy personnel and FBO management implemented a number of security recommendations just 60 days after the C-40 incident. Three miles of perimeter fence was replaced with ICAO-standard fencing. A second inner perimeter fence topped with razor wire was also erected, in addition to a five-foot-deep trench around the entire perimeter between the two fences. A secure compound to provide a sterile parking area for U.S. military contract carriers and other special requirement carriers was also added.” In addition to increased patrols on the airport by Irish National and Airport police, the Irish Army has been deployed at Shannon to provide additional security at key airport installations. “All of the security measures we’ve recently added to Shannon Airport will also apply to our business-aviation traffic,” Grainger said.
Keep Your Eyes Open
A March 20 international notam set the intercept threshold very accurately, warning civil aircraft operators flying in the Middle East, eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf that “timely and accurate” identification [of their aircraft] is “critical to avoid the inadvertent use of force.” The notam made it clear that coalition forces are ready to “exercise self-defense measures as may be necessary” and “respond decisively to any indication of hostile intent,” including the use of “interception, disabling or destruction” if they are approached by unidentified aircraft perceived to be a threat. The advisory also cautioned that all airspace over Iraq is closed to all except coalition aircraft. Coalition forces warn that aircraft approaching the group’s naval forces should monitor 121.5 or 243.0 MHz. But the updated procedures also imply that any aircraft stumbling into the wrong place at the wrong time, even accidentally, could be subject to quite a rude awakening.
Despite the fact that most pilots believe English is the language of flight all over the globe, this is not always the case. There may indeed be situations where hostile aircraft will have great difficulty establishing communications with a civil aircraft that has strayed into unfriendly territory. But established ICAO procedures expect all interceptors to attempt to contact a questionable aircraft on either 121.5 or 243.0 MHz. During daylight hours, an intercepting fighter will approach the aircraft from off the left wing, while during the nighttime hours, they also approach from underneath the nose of the aircraft flashing their navigation lights. If intercepted, squawk 7700 and closely watch the fighter for directions while continuing straight and level flight.
If, after a look-see, the fighter breaks off hard left and clear of your aircraft, it indicates you are free to continue your flight. If, however, the fighter begins making gradual turns or rocking its wings to gain your attention before a turn, the pilot may well be indicating the need to follow to an appropriate landing site. If the fighter leads you over the top of an airport and lowers its landing gear, you are expected to land. The only exception to this procedure is if the airport below is not suitable for landing, in which case, the corporate crew will be expected to circle the field, which should alert the interceptor pilot to the problem.
And Watch Your Six!
Could there be a more eye-opening light in a business aircraft cockpit than the one labeled, “Missile Warning?” Meir Comforti, senior engineer at ELTA, a division of Israel Aircraft Industries in Tel Aviv, said, “There are approximately 60,000 shoulder-launched, heat-seeking missiles in the hands of various groups around the world right now. They are also actively traded on the black market.” Two of those missiles were fired at an El Al 757 on takeoff from Mombasa late last year, fortunately without success.
Comforti’s company has spent years developing the current anti-missile technology used by the Israeli Air Force. He said the most vulnerable area for any aircraft is within 25 miles of the airport and normally below 10,000 feet. ELTA’s system uses a pulse-Doppler radar connected to six antennas that keep an omni-directional look beneath the aircraft for anything that resembles an incoming missile. The system computes a range, velocity and time to target for any threat and disperses decoy flares at the appropriate moment to distract the missile. The magazine, installed in the lower rear fuselage, holds between 15 and 30 flares and is reportedly capable of handling multiple simultaneous launch threats. The system is entirely automatic, requiring no input from the pilot, which is just as well, because the demonstration video ELTA shows makes it very clear most pilots would never see a missile coming. ELTA expects the system soon to be certified for civilian use in both Israel and the U.S. The projected installed cost is less than $500,000.
The Air Above
Flying in Eurocontrol airspace might initially appear to be similar to flying in the states, but it’s not. Eurocontrol runs ATC operations in all European countries and bordering FIRs. In Europe, flow control is a way of life, as is RVSM and BRnav, which became the primary means of navigation in Europe above 9,500 feet in 1998. Aircraft must have either DME/DME, VOR/DME, INS or IRS, loran-C or GPS to fly in this airspace and need no special authorization if they meet the eligibility requirements in their AFM.
Europe defines BRnav as operations that satisfy a required track-keeping accuracy of + 5 nm for at least 95 percent of the flight. According to FlightSafety International’s manager of international procedure programs, Mike Schaaf, some BRnav benefits include, “The application of the Flexible Use of Airspace concept, which permits more direct conditional routes (those open only at certain times during the week) to accommodate a greater flow of en route traffic; alternative or contingency routes on either a planned or ad hoc basis; establishment of optimum locations for holding patterns; and the most efficient feeder routes.”
Eurocontrol is also known to be almost totally inflexible, when pilots are early or late on flight plans, a flexibility that pilots take for granted as they contact ATC in the U.S. When you or your handler files a flight plan in Europe, it should be done at least three hours before takeoff. When filing a flight plan with Eurocontrol, there is no need to file a U.S.-style SIDS and STARs. And be prepared for the fact that ATC clearances are often received just before takeoff.
Since slot times are also a constant in Europe, Eurocontrol’s Central Flow Management Unit will issue a slot time approximately two hours before departure. Unless you or your passengers are incapacitated, you’d better make those times. If you should have a delay of less than 15 minutes, the local tower can often work out the problem. More than 15 minutes, however, and you’ll find yourself starting the entire flight-planning process all over again. And those nice Eurocontrol computers also have quite a memory as well. If your flight is one that appears to have completely missed or ignored a previous departure slot, without notifying ATC, you can expect additional delays. And don’t try anything funny like filing two flight plans to try and cover your flight as you might in the states. Eurocontrol takes a dim view of that too.
If your passengers show up early, simply calling for an updated airway slot may not be enough. Many a U.S. pilot has called for just that and been told by Eurocontrol that the airways system will accept the flight, only to find that their local tower has no ground slot times available. Slot changes are much better handled by a service provider who understands the ins and outs of Eurocontrol.
In RVSM airspace, communications failure procedures are also slightly different, such as the requirement to maintain your last assigned altitude for seven minutes when you enter transitional airspace. This allows Eurocontrol enough time to figure out what to do with aircraft in your way. The reason is simple enough. Although westbound altitudes are normally even altitudes and eastbound ones are odd, a monkey wrench can often appear when a westbound non-RVSM aircraft is flying through the transition airspace, potentially nose-to-nose with an eastbound RVSM airplane at the same altitude.
And in case you thought flying in Europe was simply a navigational issue, consider this story from a San Francisco-based Challenger pilot floored by a foreign accent. “On one trip, I could not understand the clearance a Scottish delivery controller had issued us. We asked five different times and finally gave up, deciding to fly the first 150 miles along the way and work it out in the air. We flew for 400 miles trying to get the routing straight, but each controller along the way told us to ask the next controller. I finally asked for direct to an arrival fix and was cleared as requested. It was the first time I knew how we’d finish the flight.”
Food Safety: Pie in the Sky?
Food evangelist Erica Sheward is on a crusade at a time in history when everyone is on the lookout for holes in aircraft security. One area that has slipped under the radar of most aviation departments is the food they offer their passengers and crew as they travel around the globe. Sheward, director of food safety and health services at West Sussex, England-based Jet Academy, said, “more than 70 percent of midair sickness is a direct result of consuming poor quality food or drink. Catering to business aviation is totally unregulated in terms of safety and security controls. In a survey of corporate aviation departments, we found 92 percent of chief pilots or managers had no clue who actually supplied their catering when they are away from their home domicile. Basically, so long as the food turns up on time and vaguely resembles what they ordered, everyone is happy.” Sheward claims, however, that many worldwide catering organizations don’t even carry public liability insurance. And most FBO and service provider personnel have never visited the caterers they use. “One caterer I visited actually operated from a trailer park.”
According to Sheward, a common misconception is that the pathogenic microorganisms that cause food-borne illness have an incubation period of some nine hours. “Some of the most common and vicious pathogens can actually cause illness in less than an hour. The other misconception is that food poisoning is not life threatening and results only in vomiting and diarrhea. Hardly. Some toxin-producing bacteria harbored in common food like rice, pasta and orange juice can kill you.”
Sheward’s campaign for cabin safety includes teaching pilots to realize how debilitating food poisoning can be and how little most pilots understand about the issue. “The effects of consuming poor quality food and water can be far more incapacitating than drugs or alcohol, yet there is no mandate to pilots about what not to eat or drink, particularly at certain high-risk destinations around the world.” Corporate crews and managers need to encourage a food safety and security culture to be certain any food brought onto the aircraft is scrutinized just as closely as any other product.
While the issue of catering security would, at first glance, appear to focus solely on the quality of the food and drink products used, the problem is more far reaching. At a time when movement of corporate aircraft is being played ever closer to the belt, Sheward reports that many flight crews and dispatchers will, “think nothing of giving the catering company every detail of a flight on an open fax machine, right down to passenger names, passport numbers and crew hotel bookings.” Most managers have no idea whether the catering company has run any sort of background check on its employees. Sheward said her firm checks out every one of its employees before they begin work. “Imagine what it might be worth to someone to tamper with the food aboard one of your flights. Consider the cost to the reputation of your flight department if the CEO’s guest filed a lawsuit because your catering made them sick.”
To Sheward, the solutions are straightforward. Flight crews, managers and especially caterers need to be more involved in the entire process of scrutinizing who prepares food for business aircraft, how it is prepared and how the safety of the food can be guaranteed before delivery. “Quality assurance is crucial in this industry. If you don’t think you can be certain of the integrity of the food being delivered to the aircraft, buy and prepare the food yourself when you’re overseas,” Sheward counsels. “Pilots should make the FBO justify why they recommend a particular catering company over another. And have someone sign for the food in your presence so you can trace it back if there is a problem. The more you look like you might be bothered by the whole process, the better your chances of getting a great catering job. And make sure there is a ‘use by’ date on everything. Many caterers don’t bother with labeling at all. In the third world, don’t eat cold foods. Do whatever you can to use only foods that you can heat the heck out of before you serve them.”
It’s Not All About Me?
Can there be anything worse than a stranger in a strange land (a pilot perhaps), who manages to carefully insert his foot in his mouth on his first night out in a new country? “Americans tend to think everything in the world revolves around them, and to excess at that,” asserted Roger Axtell. The sort of person who could easily have made a career as a standup comic, Axtell took a light look at worldwide culture etiquette and protocol in his gigs as a professional speaker and as the author of eight books on the subject. Axtell, the retired vice president of worldwide marketing at Parker Pen, is the author of Dos and Taboos Around the World, published in six languages. “We get into the habit of doing things without thinking much about them. We shake hands, we look people directly in the eye, and we use first names, all of which are considered very informal in other countries. But the more we travel outside the U.S., the more we will be pulled out of our comfort zone.” Axtell reminded his audience, “Sixty percent of all communication is non-verbal, while ninety percent is focused on the speaker’s emotional state.
“In the U.S., the OK symbol of making an O out of the thumb and forefinger is considered pretty normal. In Japan, though, that’s the symbol for money. Make that hand gesture in Brazil and it’s considered pretty rude. In some parts of the Middle East, they use their hands to eat because knives and forks are considered dirty since you never know where they came from.
“We consider English as the language of aviation, but the people who must learn our idioms are in absolute pain.” Consider Americans who encourage a Japanese comrade by telling them they are thinking along parallel lines. “The Japanese see that as unfortunate because they know parallel lines never touch,” he said. But Axtell believes there is hope even for us self-centered Americans. “We’re talking about the first layers of culture. I believe people are really more alike than we think. We all want professionalism, integrity and honor from the people we deal with. But we’re going to make mistakes overseas and we have to learn to laugh at ourselves. Remember, the smile is the universally known symbol for something good.”
Waking Up Is Hard To Do
My mind clicks on and off…
I try letting one eyelid close at a time
while I prop the other open with will.
My whole body argues dully that nothing in
life I can attain is quite so desirable as sleep.
My mind is losing resolution and control.
The Spirit of St. Louis
Dr. Mark Rosekind is president and chief scientist of Alertness Solutions and a former NASA scientist. “We’ve been losing the battle in the 24/7 society we operate in as we cross multiple time zones and work non-standard hours. Our physiology simply can’t keep up with technology, although we demand the highest levels of safety and productivity from our people, such as international pilots.” Rosekind has been studying sleep issues for more than 20 years and believes there is already plenty of scientific data available about the body’s circadian clock confirming just how far we’re stretching ourselves beyond our limits. He points to the sleep-related fatigue factors investigators uncovered in the Challenger, Exxon Valdez and Chernobyl accidents as evidence of how simple oversights can quickly translate into dramatic chaos. According to Rosekind, “Using accidents as a measure of the current policies you have in place, however, can give you a false sense of security.”
Fatigue is composed of two major components–sleep loss and circadian disruption–which upset the body’s time clock. “These losses can degrade every aspect of our human capability and cost us significantly in safety, productivity and quality of life.” On average, most humans need approximately eight hours of sleep per night, with a few requiring a bit more, some a bit less. Rosekind believes most people average about one to one-and-a-half hours less sleep each night than their bodies require.
With differing physiology and diverse work requirements, we simply underestimate fatigue and its results. Age, alcohol use and sleep disorders combined with interruptions to the body’s circadian clock all conspire to produce fatigue. While there is no magic bullet that anyone can use to solve the problem, Rosekind does offer a few strategies to help. “Planned naps in the cockpit of about 40 minutes really work. Our research showed that after a nap, a pilot’s performance improved 34 percent and alertness improved by 54 percent. What else can you think of to deliver those kinds of results?”
Another much more prevalent issue–sleep apnea–can also be a silent killer. Apnea, a breathing disorder that occurs during rest periods, is typically accompanied by loud snoring and brief periods throughout the night in which breathing stops, depriving the person of oxygen just long enough to awaken them. At least three percent of the general population has sleep apnea, although only about seven percent of that number are actually diagnosed. Some 24 percent of males could potentially suffer from apnea, according to Rosekind.
But the line between general fatigue and sleep apnea can often be difficult to identify, especially for pilots who pride themselves on perfection 24 hours a day. The primary symptoms are daytime sleepiness that does not go away no matter how much sack time a pilot sees. Memory and attention problems during the work day, such as difficulty trying to solve a simple math problem, or needing to ask for the same frequency more than once or possibly turning a switch the wrong way during flight, can also signal a sleep disorder such as apnea.
Unbeknownst to most people, the risks stemming from apnea are extraordinary–high blood pressure and strokes are common if apnea is left undiagnosed or untreated.
Apnea is not the only sleep disorder pilots should know about. Other threats include Restless Leg Syndrome and periodic limb movements. Restless Leg Syndrome is a creepy-crawly feeling experienced by people–often at bedtime–that can sometimes prevent them from falling asleep. Periodic limb movements, on the other hand, involve leg movements, such as kicking, that wake a person just enough to disrupt sleep, but not enough for them to become fully conscious and remember the event. Each episode severely degrades the quality of the sleep received, no matter how long the rest period.
Sleep apnea is normally treated with a CPAP machine each night that through an oxygen-type mask, provides constant air pressure to keep a person’s breathing tube open. It is not a fun contraption to wear, but affected people must consider the alternative. For Restless Leg Syndrome, there are few solutions at present. The treatments for periodic limb movement include a medication called Clonidine. Another drug, Neurontin, is also being tested by some sleep experts to treat limb movement disorders.
But daytime sleepiness and fatigue are not the only threat a pilot needs to be concerned with when the issues of sleep disorder arise. Clonidine and Neurontin are not FAA approved for use while flying, and the FAA is not known for its tolerance of relatively exotic medical disorders. There are also no written FAA policies on sleep issues, merely policies on some of the treatments involved, which may be a good reason sleep disorders are an issue many pilots would rather leave undiscovered.
The best way to diagnose a sleep disorder is to have a sleep test administered by a qualified physician. Rosekind warned, however, “I’m hearing about more and more people who are having sleep disorders either misdiagnosed or mistreated because every one that calls himself a sleep expert clearly is not.” Rosekind suggested beginning any search for help by tracking down only physicians or sleep centers accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “A simple Internet search can produce rather unsatisfactory results, especially since most pilots are not sleep experts and have little to compare to the advice they might receive.”
The Tax Man Cometh
For U.S. pilots making that first trip abroad, taxes and immigration in a foreign country can at first glance appear as nothing less than a nightmare. And it’s no wonder. James Cooling, managing partner with the Kansas City law firm Cooling & Herbers said, “There are more than 600 pages of European tax code alone to deal with.” But for U.S.-registered aircraft, the most important issues are how to minimize the dreaded value added taxes (VAT) and customs duties while traveling in the EU.
The solution to many duty issues in the European Union is to import the airplane into the UK. The intensity of the EU tax issue came to light four years ago. “And it hasn’t gone away yet,” according to Cooling. James Walker, managing director of VATAmerica LP, agreed. “If you’re going to fly to Europe and the boss might carry an EU citizen at some point, you should consider importing the aircraft. One of the hottest areas of tax conflict within the EU for U.S.-registered aircraft is still, not surprisingly, in France. But even Germany is on the move over these constantly changing issues and recently began charging VAT for any portion of a charter conducted over that nation’s territory. Walker added, “And when Germany adopts things, they are often quickly adopted by other EU countries as well.”
Permanent importation of aircraft weighing more than 17,637 pounds (8,000 kilograms) relieves the operator from all VAT. The UK also has lots of exemptions for VAT, but the operator must be well enough educated to ask for them. Another important issue, according to Walker: “Don’t forget to check the box on the customs form that relieves you of VAT when you’re leaving the UK.” But permanent importation is designed for a long-term stay in the territory of importation. If the aircraft leaves the EU, the operator must be certain to carry a copy of the importation paperwork on board to verify the importation status of the aircraft upon return. There is also a three-year limit even to permanent importation. Should an imported aircraft be taken outside the EU for longer than that period of time, the permanent import status of the aircraft evaporates.
Importation of a U.S.-registered aircraft must also be understood for what it is not. For instance, importation does not allow an aircraft operator to undertake cabotage by, for example, picking up passengers as a Part 135 carrier in Paris and transporting them to Nice. Part 91 cabotage is not an issue, however, if passengers or the divisions of the company they work for are not being charged back in any way for the flight. For crews and passengers of leased aircraft, too, carrying a letter of authorization from the aircraft’s owner would be worthwhile to clearly outline importation issues, and the relationship among the aircraft, the crew and the passengers.
Some 350 aircraft are reported to have been imported into the UK last year alone. Tax experts believe, however, that since the UK loses many thousands of pounds in revenue each year because of this process, aircraft importation designed to circumvent tax liability may not be around too much longer. Consult your service provider or a tax attorney for the most up-to-date information on this changing environment.