Just because there’s no FAA regulation requiring Part 91 operators to complete an official international training program before they blast off to other parts of the planet doesn’t mean skipping such a program is a good idea, even if it is legal. While the component titles–customs, oceanic ATC, safety management systems, aviation security, fatigue management, insurance issues, emissions controls, ICAO topics, flight planning and so on–don’t often change, the details of any one topic can and do change, quickly enough to become a thorn in the side of an unprepared international flight crew. Hence the enduring popularity and relevance of NBAA’s annual international operators conference, held this year in San Diego on March 12 to 15. While not a substitute for an international training program, to varying extent the event opens the eyes of all who attend, first-timer and seasoned pro alike. This year, slightly more than half of the 400 people in the audience said they were first-time attendees.
The adoption of a safety management system (SMS) was heavy on the minds of attendees at this year’s gathering, with what was at the time a deadline for compliance in the EU just days away. Officially known as ICAO’s Annex 6, Part II, an SMS is not required for a Part 91 operator in the U.S. Outside the U.S., however, SMS has taken on a life of its own, despite the fact that only Bermuda and the Caymans currently demand a fully implemented SMS for an aircraft operated under Part 91. The effective date for an EASA mandate requiring an SMS for operations in any EU country was delayed at the last moment from April this year to some time before the end of this year. Sources tell AIN that Germany, France, the UK and Italy may be the countries with the strictest enforcement, including fines.
Dave Stohr, president of Air Training International, said, “The FAA says you need to be knowledgeable and qualified on [the agency’s] recommended syllabus and no more.” Flight department managers might be excused for the confusion of not necessarily knowing where to find that syllabus, though, because it’s buried in FAA Order 8900.1. Stohr compares international flying without the proper training to “a doctor trying to operate on a patient without the right training.”
Another valuable flight department document is AC 91-70A, “A guide for operators planning oceanic flights, including authorizations needed for operations outside the United States. This includes special areas of operation (SAO) such as North Atlantic minimum navigation performance specifications (NAT/MNPS), reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM), area navigation (Rnav) and required navigation performance (RNP) airspace.”
ATC Up North
Although Canada might sometimes seem like a state just north of Wisconsin, the differences between the U.S. and Canadian aviation systems are significant. As the U.S. struggles to fund its ATC system, Nav Canada has moved ahead with a user-paid version that remains in the black. Despite Americans’ aversion to anything resembling a user fee for ATC services, the privatized Canadian system’s rate increases have managed consistently to remain well below the Canadian Consumer Price Index.
Most important, however, Nav Canada has managed to pump C$1.7 billion back into revitalizing the country’s ATC system. Nav Canada has designed and certified more than 700 new Rnav procedures as well as more than 70 for RNP. The organization recently redesigned the airspace corridor between Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City with a considerable number of new Stars, while eliminating many Victor airways. The agency said these redesigns have saved 14,300 metric tons of emissions and accounted for C$4.3 million in fuel savings in the first month-and-a-half of operation.
The next phase–expected to be complete late this year–will redevelop the airspace linked with the FAA’s near Detroit and eastward to smooth the transition through northeast Canadian airspace for all aircraft. Additional domestic airspace revisions will include work timed to the opening of Calgary’s new runway in late 2014 and to ensure a better fit for Edmonton International, the area’s business aviation airport. Controller pilot datalink service is now fully operational at both the Edmonton and Montreal FIRs.
Nav Canada has moved far ahead of some other ATC service providers in its presence over the North Atlantic, where ADS-B is providing surveillance capability over 808,000 sq mi of airspace. For aircraft transiting Nav Canada’s Gander Area Control Center airspace, this allows reduced separation. Properly equipped ADS-B aircraft can now fly with as little as 10 nm longitudinal separation where they once had to remain 80 nm apart. Nav Canada’s latest ADS-B expansion follows previous deployments over Hudson Bay in 2009, covering some 528,000 sq mi, and northeastern Canada in 2010, which added nearly 1.2 million sq mi. The total coverage area for ADS-B now stands at more than 2.5 million sq mi, made possible by 15 ground stations installed along the Hudson Bay shoreline, the northeast coast and southern Greenland.
Flying in China
Each year pilots tell stories about a gradually improving ATC system across mainland China, and flying in this part of Asia has become easier compared with two or three years ago. But the level of ATC service there is still not near what most corporate flight department crews would expect in America or Western Europe. Jimmy Young, managing director of Universal Aviation China, said a number of important restrictions have not changed. Beginning with flight planning, “Remember that you are allowed no more than five stops within the country and no more than seven days total on a single visa. And try to minimize any changes to your permits.” Young said arrival and departure slot changes could also be difficult at major airports.
Many airways in China remain for use exclusively by the airlines, with no sharing. Business aviation travels via alternative routes that are often not direct. Crews must also remember, “Flights to or from China may not land within or overfly Taiwan. Within China, a native navigator may also be required for flights to and from certain domestic airports,” Young said.
In China, ATC regularly restricts business aircraft climbs to high altitudes when departing China in general, but most often heading east out of the region. Chinese controllers issue flight-level clearances in meters, too, which means crews must be prepared to quickly convert to a reference they understand and that their aircraft can fly. ATC system fees are quite high in China. “Expect a $3,000 fee just to enter the country,” said Young, “and as much as $0.44 per km along the way.”
In the event the boss suggests flying into a Chinese military airfield, consider these requirements. “There is a minimum of 20 working days required to apply for permission,” Young said. “You’ll also need a local government invitation letter, as well as a sponsor letter from the Chinese company you’ll be visiting. Also expect to carry that bilingual navigator on one of these trips. Above all, even with all of these documents in place, remember there is no guarantee the permit will be approved.”
Finally in China, plan to carry extra fuel, often quite a bit of it. Ron Weight, a G550 captain with Honeywell, explained some of the realities. “On a trip between EFHK [Helsinki] and ZJSY [Sanya Fenghuang International] on China’s east coast, the Great Circle route flight plan showed 4,294 nm. At Mach 0.83 we planned that for 8+40. When we flew it, however, Chinese ATC gave us a route that ran just under 4,900 nm and added more than an hour-and-a-half to the total flight.”
It’s Olympics Year…Again
With the extra work necessary to visit China during the last Olympics still fresh on the minds of many international flight crews, operational procedures for this year’s games have just been announced. This summer’s games, however, will be happening right in the middle of some of the most congested airspace in Europe. In fact, London Heathrow is just about ground zero for this summer’s games. Officially, Olympic events run from July 27 through August 12. There are also Paralympic games scheduled for August 29 through September 9, so all airspace updates are focused around those time frames. Steve Patterson, NATS ATC lead for London 2012 Olympics, said, “Data shows that demand for air travel increases a week before and up to three days after the ceremonies end.” The UK Department for Transport’s most recent report on the games expects 500,000 additional visitors to the UK, all arriving via some form of air travel. Of that number, some 70,000 people will be directly related to games participants, as well as 20,000 media. For international crews, the most important fact is that NATS expects an additional 3,000 business aviation flights during the games.
Airport slots will be required for the visitors to the London-area airports, and operators of FBOs at those facilities are emphasizing the importance of operators pre-booking slots, lest they be denied access during the games.
NATS has divided London-area airports into three tiers for the games. These tiers are expected to affect landing and departure slot availability. Tier one are the major hubs at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City. Tier twos are airports a bit further removed from central London, such as Southampton, Cambridge, Biggin Hill, Coventry and Cranfield. Finally, tier threes are Rochester, Denham, Fairoaks, Wycombe and Dunsfold. Some of these airports can be a bit of a drive at peak hours. Cambridge, for example, in light traffic is just over an hour, as is Dunsfold. Patterson also said, “NATS confirmed airport slots will be mandatory for all operators between July 21 and August 15.”
For the period of the Olympic Games NATS will open a special ATC facility, called the Atlas Control Center, that’s expected to divide central London airspace into basically an Atlas North and Atlas South region. NATS has set up a number of websites just for these games: olympics.airspacesafety.com and www.customer.nats.co.uk They include dozens of downloadable charts and news updates for the games. The NATS Olympics site will also include an airport status page using green, yellow and red dots at each location to indicate conditions. Patterson said crews should “plan carefully for diversions and have contingency plans at the ready.”
The Value of Fuel for International Ops
Operating a business airplane anywhere is not cheap these days, with crude oil at near $110 a barrel and the retail price of a gallon of jet-A in the $8 to $10 range in the U.S. Thanks to the Internet, fuel prices for Bali or Mumbai or Beijing are posted in a variety of places. All the crew needs to do is a little exhaustive research to locate the best price and arrive with quote in hand. The downside of an Internet fuel search is the mountain of available information multiplied by the 15 or 20 dozen countries an aircraft might visit in a year.
A new fuel management company, 91 ops, wants to change that. The business strategy for the Nicosia, Cyprus company is actually quite simple: 91ops.com tracks fuel prices everywhere and guarantees customers the best prices, including delivery. And that last point, delivery, is often important. There is little worse than arriving in some faraway land to learn that the price you agreed to over the Internet, or indeed the fuel order itself, is unavailable.
Thomas Ion is an aircraft captain for a Franklin Templeton Travel GV based in Singapore, one of five Gulfstreams the company operates. Flying some 600 hours a year, Ion says his aircraft’s travel alone translates into about 300,000 gallons each year. “A penny a gallon can make a significant difference in the cost of operating our airplane,” he said. “Using 91 ops assures me that we’re getting the best prices without all the work [of searching the Internet]. It gets my pilots back to just flying the airplane.” Ion’s company pays 91 ops a monthly service fee for its efforts. “Of course the fuelers still bill us,” Ion said, “but when we are quoted $3.69 a gallon and the invoice comes back at $4.10 for some reason, we don’t have to go back and forth with those companies. 91 ops tracks everything and handles all the problems for us. I don’t really know how it does what it does better than we did ourselves, but it does. It offers a personalized service and we love it.” This kind of service doesn’t work for everyone, though. “This is a new idea,” said Ion. “If I were only flying a GIV to Europe a few times a year, this probably wouldn’t make sense. But for airplanes and crews that are flying a lot all over the planet, this is a great service.” Viktor Polyak, operations manager for 91 ops, said, “We find that the best fit for our services is a flight department with seven or fewer aircraft. One issue we do see is that some fuel managers feel their jobs are threatened because we can often manage the fuel cheaper than they can in-house.”
One of the top concerns for crews flying anywhere is not simply how to maintain the security of their passengers and aircraft, but also where to find the best information possible before they leave. When you combine it all, the answers speak to security concerns in the hottest hot spots. A couple that jump to the front of the line for Tom Winn, FrontierMedEx senior chief of operations/intelligence, security services, are Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Nigeria and Mexico. FrontierMedEx rates countries on a scale of one to five, with five being the most dangerous.
Winn labels Syria a five. “Syria remains volatile and [has been] deteriorating since March 2011, with almost daily demonstrations and heavy government crackdowns. The military is still backing the Assad regime but the status quo in Syria is unsustainable. Travel to Syria should be avoided.”
Not surprisingly, Winn sees Iran as a five. “Relations with most western nations are strained because of Iran’s nuclear program. Emergency landings, while legal, can be problematic.” Winn explained, crews landing in Iran for any reason just might find themselves “guests” of the Iranian government. Also a five is Nigeria, where the Boko Haram Islamic sect has become the most significant threat to travelers in northern Nigeria and Abuja.
Once labeled an easier destination, Egypt rates a three on the FrontierMedEx scale. Winn calls Egypt unstabilized. “There are almost daily demonstrations and strikes in various sectors, with an increased degree of lawlessness in the Sinai [area] evidenced by kidnappings of travelers and aid workers.”
FrontierMedEx rates Mexico as a four, unsettling for crews used to flying south of the border for a little R&R. Winn said, “The presidential election comes up this July. There are valid concerns that organized crime will try to manipulate the process.” He also said there are growing concerns that the expansion of violence away from the border region is expected to continue through the remainder of this year. The escalation of infighting and the splintering of organized cartels may result in more violence and open attacks. “The main threat to business continues to be extortion and kidnapping of employees.”
“Anytime we are in the company of people who know who we are and what we do, we become high-value targets for all types of criminal behavior,” warned Greg Kulis, chairman of NBAA’s Security Council. He explained the relative simplicity of crime in many parts of the world where U.S. crews fly. “The criminal will either select the victim and wait for the right environment, or will select the right environment and wait for a victim.”
He reminded the audience that it is nearly impossible to control the value of the potential victim of a crime as well as the environment in which they travel, but it is usually possible to control at least one of these factors. “Minimize the time you spend in the company of strangers who know who you are and what you do. Be sure all ground transportation is vetted.” Kulis believes the ground transportation portion is the most vulnerable part of any trip. And discourage passengers from any unplanned sightseeing.” Kulis emphasized the importance of a good security brief before takeoff. Companies that do not have their own security departments should get a good briefing by a third-party provider. Those can be easily customized and cost as little as $300 to $400 per trip.
Elements of a good security briefing:
• list and explain current ground and airport threats
• significant local dates or anniversaries that coincide with the trip
• significant events/unrest that may flare or raise the level of the trip’s threat/risk
Recommendations delivered should include:
• local phone numbers and
• security level suggestions that should be applied to the passengers, crew and aircraft