An old French proverb reminds us “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” For international flight departments, planning a trip outside the U.S. means focusing on many of the same topics crews consider for a flight inside the U.S.: weather, navigation, customs and immigration, air traffic control, security, medical and a half dozen more. But woe to the company that believes launching for Tokyo, Beijing or Lagos is only a slightly more complex version of Knoxville-Denver…because it’s not even close.
Part 91 business aviation operators new to international flying might be excused for not understanding what it takes to pull off a successful flight outside the U.S. because the FAA doesn’t require any specific international training. FAA Order 8900.1 chapter 4 demands only that “operators provide adequate training,” enough to ensure that “pilots are familiar with the laws, regulations and procedures pertinent to the performance of their duties for the areas to be traversed, the airports to be used, and the related air navigation facilities.” On top of that vagueness for Part 91 operators, the FAA’s own International Operations manual for general aviation hasn’t been updated in a decade.
But just because two pilots and an airplane full of people can blast off in any direction without an ounce of formal training doesn’t mean that’s a sound idea. Gulfstream pilot Brad Bass, chairman of this year’s International Operators Conference (IOC) in San Diego, said that while the NBAA conference doesn’t count officially as international training, the four-day event offers an in-depth look at enough topics to make anyone take pause at the complexities of flying past U.S. territorial borders. Bass told AIN, “It’s a challenge to remain aware of [international topics] because things are changing daily: technology, rules, trip support. You really need to do your homework before you leave [the U.S.].”
Despite the gloomy state of the world economy this spring, the overall mood at the IOC seemed upbeat. AIN conducted a non-scientific survey of 27 pilots attending the event and their answers revealed some interesting trends, small though the sample may have been of the 350 pilots attending. Approximately 70 percent of pilots interviewed said their company’s international flying hours had increased over the past 12 months, while only 20 percent said flying hours had declined during the same period. Five percent responded that flying hours in the last 12 months were unchanged. Pilots in the IOC’s main conference room (approximately 300) were queried about destinations, specifically their flying habits to Africa. More than 75 percent of the people acknowledged they’d either traveled to the African continent in the past year or planned to soon.