Few EU operators benefit from charter rules change

 - September 2, 2008, 7:04 AM

Despite U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) assurances that it would streamline the process to allow European charter operators to fly into the U.S., the procedure is still difficult, say operators.

Although U.S. regulators are simplifying the rules governing private flight for hire (Part 375), U.S. rules remain the most restrictive in the world, according to Dannys Famin, Unijet’s CEO and a governor in the European Business Aviation Association. “Things are starting to move, but my transatlantic business is still at a very low level, and I cannot expand it,” Famin told AIN. NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen made a similar statement at EBACE, noting that the U.S. “should get its house in order”
in terms of access from abroad. “When we [Americans] face similar requirements in emerging countries, we find it unacceptable,” he commented.

According to Dayton Lehman, deputy assistant general counsel for aviation enforcement and proceedings at the DOT, one of the two main issues with the previous Part 375 process was the limit of six flights per year, which European operators argued was not enough. However, their operations were often too limited to justify applying for a Part 129 full commercial certificate. The other issue, Lehman said at EBACE, was that operators were losing customers “because of a flight-by-flight application process and timing issues.”

European operators likely consider “timing issues” to be an understatement. “Previously, we had to cope with a 45-day notice for the first of the six flights. We could have no update on our request until the 45th day. This is unworkable. This has caused us a number of cancellations,” Famin explained.

Another impediment for non-U.S. operators is the requirement that they show the price of the charter on the application form. Famin hinted that this piece of information is useful to his U.S. competitors. “We have lost a lot of flights to them,” he said.

The new limit has been increased to 12 flights. Upon request, the DOT opens a seven-business-day comment period. “This year, my first request was accepted in 33 days and the second one in 11 or 12 days,” Famin noted.

Red Tape Abounds
According to Lehman, since 2007 few European operators have taken advantage of the liberalization in Part 375 authorizations. In fact, only three carriers have applied for authorization for up to 12 flights. The DOT has granted all of those requests.

Why don’t more operators apply for Part 129? “Because it only allows flights from the country of origin to the U.S. Under Part 129, I could not fly from Paris to New York with a stopover in London [apart from a refueling stop],” Famin said.

Another disadvantage is that once an operation becomes Part 129, the operator can no longer fly privately. This prevents the company from flying a customer in his own business jet under private rules, for example. Famin hinted that one outcome of this rule is that operators label as private those flights that are technically commercial.

“There is much less red tape in other countries. Everywhere in the world, the whole process takes one week at most,” Famin said. It seems it can be slightly longer, however, in China. According to Famin, U.S. operators flying into France are supposed to be issued permission within 48 hours of applying. In fact, they get an answer in a mere three hours, Famin said.