International Operations

 - May 1, 2008, 10:38 AM

Seven years after the chaos of 9/11, air travel has again reached record levels in the U.S, Europe and Asia. Despite increasing fears of a near-term recession in the U.S. caused in part by a dramatic surge in the U.S. dollar price of crude oil, international business aviation travel is also on the rise.

At this year’s International Operators Conference (IOC) in San Antonio, Shane O’Hare, CEO of Abu Dhabi-based Royal Jet, said, “Our research points to a 40-percent annual increase in the Middle East business aviation sector in the next five years, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE driving the momentum.” Also from Dubai, United Aviation Services marketing manager Abdul Charafeddin confirmed a steady increase in business traffic, much of which he attributed to “blue-chip companies such as IBM, AT&T, JP Morgan Chase and others we often see here. More big international companies and brands have an office or a representative here now as well. Mainly the traffic we see arrives from the U.S. and Europe, mostly long-range aircraft like the Gulfstream IV and V and the Global Express.” O’Hare says that much of Royal Jet’s traffic is focused around the Boeing BBJ.

In Europe business aviation accounts for nearly 9 percent of the traffic handled by Eurocontrol, according to Eric Mandemaker, CEO of the European Business Aviation Association. Mandemaker said, “There is also considerable business traffic to Africa from Europe.” ExcelAire vice president of flight operations and former IOC chairman Bob Weinwurzel commented on traffic to and from Israel. “The handlers we deal with at Tel Aviv tell me traffic is up significantly because many U.S. companies have purchased a stake or an entire business in Israel. High-tech companies like IBM and Intel are heavily invested there.”

Jason Liao, regional vice president of Hawker Beechcraft in Beijing, added that there is a great deal of disposable cash in China right now. He said that more users are buying aircraft rather than chartering, which was the more popular option a few years ago. In addition, more western aircraft are arriving to conduct business in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Universal Weather & Aviation director of trip support services operations Mark Hazard said, “Our trip support services say that last year’s traffic was up substantially to Asia and Africa while the number of trips to Europe and South America has remained steady.”

Anecdotal evidence AIN gathered at the recent NBAA IOC also shows use of business aircraft for travel outside the U.S. has continued to climb since last year’s event. One California-based flight department said all of its aircraft are now long range and that their usage is up considerably in the past year, primarily to destinations in the Far East.

Aircraft delivery data from GAMA confirms that the number of internationally capable airplanes has continued to increase. In 2007, that number rose by another 316, compared with 323 in 2006. Although a majority of the aircraft were destined for North America, the total number of airframes headed for the European theater is up nearly 10 percent from 2006, while the number of aircraft destined for South America is up nearly 25 percent. Liao said nine new Hawkers now call China home, with five more to be delivered this year.

There are numerous challenges for operators flying abroad. International training, customs, immigration, ATC, new ICAO language and medical demands are only the beginning. No small challenge too is the price and availability of fuel now that crude has surpassed $100 a barrel. OPEC has vigorously resisted pressure from the West to increase production, while Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has threatened to promote $200-a-barrel crude.

Europe is also leading the U.S. to protect the environment from additional pollution created by aircraft, an issue certain to take on added strength as the European Union’s plan to implement a carbon trading system by 2012 gathers steam. ICAO continues its efforts to standardize international flying, which makes a flight planning and regulatory resource critical.

International Operations Training
Pilots of U.S.-registered Part 91 aircraft are technically not required to pass a course on international procedures before crossing the border to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean or even crossing either ocean. However, FAA Order 8900.1 does require an operator to obtain and carry a Letter of Authorization for international flying. That authorization merely demands that crewmembers be familiar with operating procedures relevant to the area they’re planning to visit, which is no more than what is required of a Part 91 crew operating domestically.

According to the FAA, “Experience has clearly demonstrated that the presence of sophisticated navigational equipment on board an aircraft does not, by itself, ensure a high level of performance will be achieved [during international flying segments]. It is essential that operators provide adequate training for personnel operating or maintaining that equipment and that operating drills and procedures are included in crew training.”

The FAA Order does encourage operators to develop a manual of international procedures, although again, such a document is not required despite the agency’s reminders that pilots flying through international airspace must be familiar with minimum navigation performance specification (MNPS) airspace. The agency does remind pilots that MNPS guidelines are strictly enforced.

Crew qualification portions of the Order specify that pilots must understand that they are required to abide by the aviation rules of the country they are visiting if they are more restrictive than ICAO standards. Under FAA regulations, to serve as PIC pilots must be familiar with the route to be flown, terrain and minimum safe altitudes, weather, communications outlets available to update weather information en route and comply with ATC instructions, search-and-rescue procedures and long-range navigation procedures required to make the flight. Only a private pilot certificate and an instrument rating are required to operate over the North Atlantic. A number of providers offer in-depth training about specific international procedures.

U.S. FAR Part 61 has always included a simple eligibility requirement for pilot applicants. They must be able to speak, read and understand the English language. That requirement has been around for so long, in fact, that few aviators give it much thought. Now the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) wants to normalize the need for aviators across the globe to understand one another better.

In March ICAO Annex 1 required that all private, commercial and ATP-rated pilots, as well as flight engineers and navigators operating as required crewmembers, on international flights must hold an airman’s certificate that specifically attests to their English-language skills.

To meet the requirements, international pilots must apply for replacement certificates from the FAA and carry them on their person before March 2009. Some pilots reported that as late as the final week of February this year, the FAA was issuing certificates that did not carry the endorsement demanding that all aviators check new certificates for the language endorsement when they arrive.

Air traffic services that control aircraft across the North Atlantic claim that the majority of separation errors–called gross navigational errors (GNEs)–occur for precisely the same reason they have been happening for years: flight crews fly the flight plans they filed instead of the flight plans ATC assigns. GNEs are defined as a longitudinal variation of plus or minus three minutes, a vertical deviation of more than 300 feet and lateral mistake that carries an aircraft more than 25 nm off course.

National Air Traffic Services’ Paul Spooner from the Shanwick Oceanic sector said that although the total percentage of GNEs for 2007 caused by pilots flying their flight plan rather than their clearance is down from 80 percent to 65 percent, that number still represents “388 minutes of flying time in which aircraft were at the wrong flight level. There were also 111 interventions in 2007 where a controller caught a mistake before the pilot did.”

An ATC clearance is recognized as a negotiated agreement between a flight crew and ATC that if the pilots precisely fly the clearance they are guaranteed to remain clear of other aircraft. The concept of a contract is the basis of ADS-C, automatic dependent surveillance-contract. Wander outside protected airspace and the consequences can be severe. A significant improvement in the accuracy and ease of use of flight management technology is considered a culprit in the number of errors by aircraft entering and leaving the track system across the North Atlantic, as well as aircraft operating on random routes.

One of the best ways to make certain an aircraft ends up where it should be when it should be is to maintain a paper plotting chart across the Atlantic that offers some method for the crew to catch a navigational error before it becomes serious. In fact, FAA Advisory Circular 91.70 Oceanic Operations requires crews to keep a copy any time a jet flies more than 750 nm from a land-based navaid.

Plotting charts must be kept on file for a minimum of six months after use. Despite the fact that the AC has not been updated since 1994 and includes no mention of RVSM airspace, it offers some valuable advice. For example, pilots should begin a North Atlantic trip by plotting all the tracks in use on any given day and clearly identify each on the chart so that any flight plan’s route can be clearly associated to any of the tracks in use that day. Tracks are typically updated every 12 hours.

The cleared route–drawn on the chart–should include all the points of the flight plan as well as relative distances between waypoints. This will enable the navigating pilot to more easily check the distances from the plotting chart against those being input to the FMS. They should end up +2 nm or an error may be indicated.

If a crew keeps more than one plotting chart on board the airplane–one developed before takeoff and another after the clearance was received, for example–they should be designated to be certain the correct one is in use at all times. If entering and verifying a flight plan is left until late, errors are only compounded if the crew tries to rush through the sequence. To prevent errors but keep the flight on time, crews should consider entering just the first few points of the flight plan after they have been verified, leaving the rest until there is room for a breather in the cockpit.

If ATC issues an amended clearance, it should be plotted on the chart and enhanced with a color marker, but only one that has been tested in darkness. Some colors become impossible to read in dim light. Updated clearances actually cause more problems than most pilots believe because the changes seem so simple on the surface that they should require little time. Before the amended clearance is selected as the active flight plan in the FMS, the old clearance on the plotting chart should be crossed out in such a way that it is clear that it is no longer the route being flown. Then cross check against the flight plan about to be activated before hitting the enter button.

Another tip from operators says only one pilot should load the waypoints in the FMS independently and number them independently as well. Be sure the waypoints are checked against the clearance received on the screen before proceeding to the next. Verifying the waypoints in the FMS before they are used should be the job of the other pilot as a crosscheck.

Each crew should develop a system to make sure that the waypoints have been verified, perhaps a checkmark or a tick as the point is passed and time and altitudes on the plotting chart are verified against the data on the FMS. Don’t forget that the recording of position reports given to ATC is also required. The FAA is so serious about trying to eliminate GNEs that it often will ask international Part 135 crews to develop and plot an entire flight plan before a proving run ride. Unfortunately again, there is no such requirement for Part 91 operators to ensure they understand what they’re doing before they cross the coast.

NATS’ Spooner reminded pilots of another navigational issue, in this case the pinpoint accuracy of GPS, which has actually led to the lack of random errors that offered pilots some measure of protection from midair collisions like the one between the Embraer Legacy and a Gol Boeing 737 over the Brazilian rainforest in September 2006.

He suggests pilots give more thought to the strategic lateral offset procedure (Slop). “The goal of Slop is to laterally spread out aircraft by allowing pilots to choose either one or two nautical miles to the right of the centerline. Slop reduces risk by 67 percent if fully applied, but many pilots think it is merely a contingency procedure.” This points to the need for a major education drive.

Security Updates
If you thought the advance passenger information system (APIS) was something only your airline or charter friends needed to be concerned about while flying in or out of the U.S., think again. With a nudge from the Department of Homeland Security, APIS is on the verge of becoming a program for all passenger aircraft crossing U.S. borders, including Part 91 corporate operators.

An NBAA summary explained that the U.S. Customs Service released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) last year requiring private aircraft to submit passenger and aircraft owner/operator information before departing from or arriving in the U.S. Aircraft arriving from outside the U.S. currently must provide approximately 10 pieces of passenger information; the new proposal would require 34 pieces of information, submitted via an Internet portal. “While the general aviation community supports security enhancements, NBAA is troubled with the potential impact of this proposal, especially on small businesses,” said association president and CEO Ed Bolen.

Of interest to many is that APIS is not simply a U.S. government program. Universal Weather & Aviation’s Laura Everington, the company guru on all things related to customs and immigration, told the IOC audience that APIS is already in operation for Part 135 operators in the U.S. and for all international aircraft operators in many of the Caribbean nations that make up the Caricom group, specifically Antigua, Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago. Canada, Mexico, all EU countries, Japan, Australia and India are expected to join the APIS program, according to Everington. Part and parcel of APIS will be a master crew list (MCL) that all companies will need to organize and transmit to Customs and Border Patrol before the procedure is enacted.

Everington said, “APIS is an automated system capable of performing database queries on passengers and crewmembers before their arrival into or their departure from the United States. The data is, in fact, checked against 22 databases, including those of the CIA, FBI and the TSA Watch and No Fly lists.” APIS will require an operator to transmit the required information one hour before departure. When it becomes law, perhaps by the end of the year, aircraft may not take off without the APIS OK on hand.

Phase one of the APIS proposal is the publishing of the NPRM, which closed last month. Phase two, according to the DHS, will be working closely with aircraft operators to develop the methods and processes to address additional security vulnerabilities for private international aircraft.

Everington also explained the TSA Visa Waiver program. “The waiver allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Twenty-seven countries participate in the program (see box at right). The threshold weight for participating aircraft is 100,309 pounds.

In addition to being citizens in one of these countries, program participants must possess a valid passport and request a stay of no more than 90 days. “The company transporting the individual must demonstrate financial solvency as well. The passenger must have a completed I-94W form upon arrival and show some proof of a return ticket out of the U.S. within the time period required.” Everington was not certain how a Part 91 operator that does not issue passenger tickets might comply with that last demand.

The good news for operators using the waiver program is that it makes everyone’s life–and flying–easier and faster. Everington warned operators not to test the government’s patience for non-compliance on flights into the U.S., however, as in arriving with a passenger not from one of the 27 countries or on an aircraft that is not participating in the waiver program. “I know of situations where the immigration people marched a passenger right over to the international terminal of a U.S. airport and deported him, on the spot and at the company’s expense.” The company was also fined $3,300.

Aviation and the Environment
The clock has been ticking for aviation in Europe, where the industry is included in the global war on emissions reductions. Until last year the European Community felt the Bush White House was ignoring the global warming issue. That perspective has now changed, and not a moment too soon as the European Union members push ahead with plans to counter the effects of aviation on the environment.

Don Spruston, director general of the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), said, “By all estimates business aviation is producing about two percent of the total CO2 emissions of the entire aviation industry.” IBAC is part of an international working group attempting to develop sound options to balance business aviation with environmental concerns. The road to a solution is not without some minefields along the way. Spruston said an initial “ICAO assembly held in 2007 could not reach a unanimous agreement on the way forward.”

A recent statement by Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth in England, offers ominous insights into the road ahead. “Aviation is the fastest-growing contributor to climate change and it’s vital that we [come] to grips with it. We urge the government to take into account emissions from aviation when it publishes the climate change bill.”

Rich Gage, president and CEO of the Canadian Business Aviation Association and a member of the international working group on business aviation and the environment, said some international concerns also believe that the polluter should pay. “That seems to translate into ‘Anyone who flies in an aircraft is a sinner.’ And business aviation is seen as nothing more than a bunch of fat cats,” which makes it a clear target.

Gage said that the environment issues facing aviation are not separate, but highly interdependent, much more so than many operators outside Europe may realize. “We are dealing with policies currently in place to reduce aircraft noise. When you attempt to reduce aircraft noise you’ll pay for it on the emissions side. Then, if you try to drive down CO2 and NOx levels it may come at the price of a noise level that never gets any better or may become worse.” The challenge during the debate on aircraft emissions is to strike the best balance between the growth of aviation and the associated environmental impacts, Gage added.

The Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP), a group Gage says is a technical committee with political issues, conducts ICAO’s environmental impact work. The big question is how to develop the answers that best fit the aviation industry. U.S. operators should also understand that the Europeans are preparing to act, while the U.S. government is attempting to figure out the questions.

“There really is not any data available to help make the case either way for business aviation, however,” Gage said. “The political visibility of aviation is huge.” Through IBAC, Gage says, the industry supports the idea of emissions trading rather than any new taxes. IBAC is also supporting technology advancements by engine and airframe manufacturers, as well as improvements in airspace management technology.

Discussion about a system of carbon trading to balance emissions is just now making its way into the U.S. aviation vocabulary, although trading organizations already exist in North America and were, in fact, developed by the EPA. A European carbon trading system formally began in January 2005 and initially applied to fixed sources of emissions, with aviation soon to follow.

Guy Viselé, IBAC’s representative to the ICAO CAEP, broke down the hierarchy of emissions issues by pointing to the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the group that tasked ICAO with providing guidelines to the conditions for implementing the Kyoto Protocol provisions to the aviation sector. President Bush signed the Kyoto agreement, but the U.S. Senate never ratified the treaty, nullifying any benefits.

Essentially, Kyoto was designed to reduce emissions to fight the greenhouse effect. It is expected the agreement will impose reductions in aircraft emissions, with an objective of an 8-percent reduction in 2012 measured against the benchmark year 1990. Viselé said, “The international air transport emission figures are not included in the current protocol and should be dealt with by ICAO.”

Under an emission trading plan, all operators receive a fixed number of emission permits. (That number is determined by setting a cap on total emissions from any one group of polluting entities.) Groups that pollute less than a set limit may sell their unused permits to groups in need of additional ones. The marketplace fixes the price of the permits. If a corporate aircraft were allowed 20 permits per year for trips to Europe, for example, it would need to purchase additional permits on the open market when it ran out. How much those might cost at any point in time is anyone’s guess, hence the industry concern.

The strongest point of contention among industry players is the fact that non-EU countries might be forced to comply with EU guidelines. ICAO is essentially at odds with the EU over that region’s ability to force compliance. Under current plans, the EU intends to implement its demand for carbon trading by 2012.

The pressure is not simply coming from Europe, however. The UNFCCC will be discussing the climate issue this November because it believes ICAO has been too slow to develop workable guidelines. The European Council and Parliament recently agreed “to give priority to identifying and undertaking specific actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aviation if no such action is agreed within ICAO by 2012.”

The cost of permits should not be the only concern among business aviation operators. The cost of the system has not yet been determined, and the system to demonstrate compliance has not been developed either. Viselé believes the most extreme EU proposal means an extra cost of E9 billion ($14.2 billion) for air transport operators by 2020.

Business aviation should not expect to see emissions exemptions any time soon. “Even if well justified on the basis of environmental impact and heavy administrative burden,” Viselé said, “an exemption for business aircraft [operating in Europe from any other country] is politically difficult to sell because the sentiment of some EU citizens is that those rich guys in their flying limousine would escape while the ordinary citizen flying a low-fare airline would have to pay.”

The European Business Aviation Association is promoting an alternative means of compliance for corporate operators that will allow the business aviation industry to meet its environmental obligations on a more simple, straightforward, yet fully verified basis, Viselé said. “Operators would select their own offset projects that meet the strict criteria of the scheme and provide details to the administering association so that those projects are reflected within the scheme’s registry.”

He reminded corporate operators that emission trading schemes are developed with the airlines–not business aviation–in mind. “We should consider an alternative means of compliance when the trading scheme is not practical. Business aviation also needs to develop a much more proactive attitude toward environmental issues.”

Of no small importance was an IOC presentation by Mitchell Fox, chief of the flight safety section of the air navigation bureau of ICAO, where the topic turned to required medical certificates for international flight. Many companies have tried to cut costs by sending pilots on the road with a second-class FAA medical. ICAO regulations clearly call for an ICAO Class 1.

Fox surprised much of the audience when he said ICAO’s interpretation is that a second-class U.S. certificate does not equate to an ICAO Class 1 and that crews are putting themselves at risk if they find themselves part of a ramp check in a foreign country. He added that the ICAO Class 1 also outlines EKG requirements for aviators different from those of the U.S. second-class medical. The safer suggestion Fox offered is that all U.S. airmen consider never leaving the states without a U.S. first-class physical that meets the ICAO requirements.

'International Operations' PDF