European charter operators are expressing increasing frustration about what they have come to regard as anti-competitive restrictions on their ability to fly in and out of the U.S.
The European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) has threatened that if the Department of Transportation continues to block calls for a relaxation of the rules, the backlash will likely stall a move afoot in Europe to introduce private rules for fractional operations that would be modeled on the existing U.S. Part 91 Subpart K code.
As things stand, non-U.S. charter operators can make only six flights into the U.S. each year before they have to apply for a Part 129 foreign air carrier license. According to foreign operators, this is an excessively cumbersome and costly process for the relatively small number of charter flights they conduct each year, especially given that most bookings for ad hoc flights are made on short notice.
As part of the process, foreign charter operators have to ask a group of five or six leading U.S. airlines that fly international routes whether they object to their flying the proposed charter mission. So even if a major carrier like American Airlines would have no intention of bidding for the charter flight itself, it still must be petitioned for its blessing–a requirement that some say explains why the U.S. permit-approval process is so protracted.
U.S. charter operators are required to get clearance for flights into Europe but, according to leading flight-planning groups, this takes no more than a day and there is no limit on how many flights can be made. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the UK representative of a leading flight-planning group said that in practice many U.S. charter operators do not even bother with the formality of applying for a permit and arrive in Europe claiming to be making private flights. By way of evidence, he said that there is an obvious discrepancy between the number of flight plans filed by U.S. charter operators and the number of charter permits requested for these flights.
NBAA is urging the DOT to at least allow foreign carriers up to 12 flights per year before they have to apply for the Part 129 license. It is also trying to get the DOT to pledge that a foreign operator’s first application for a permit will be processed within five days, and that subsequent applications will be turned around in 48 hours. But DOT officials are steadfastly refusing to commit to completing permit applications in less than seven days.
For its part, EBAA is determined that plans for a European equivalent to the U.S. Part 91 Subpart K rules that allow fractional operations to be considered private (as opposed to commercial) will not be implemented unless the U.S. makes life easier for European charter operators. Allowing frax movements in Europe under private rules would largely benefit major U.S. fractional groups such as NetJets at a time when European charter operators say they are already at a serious competitive disadvantage because they cannot easily fly customers into and out of the U.S.
This proposed reform is now being developed in detail by a working group set up by the European Civil Aviation Conference. The plan is that its recommendations would form the basis for the envisioned new EU-OPS 2 rules for private aircraft operations that the European Aviation Safety Agency is expected to introduce when it takes over responsibility for regulating flight operations.
EBAA and NBAA are trying to get the DOT to see that refusing to relax restrictions on European charter operators could have consequences for U.S operators. Quite apart from its potential to stall plans to introduce a European Part 91K regime, it is not inconceivable that European operators might demand that the European Commission impose matching restrictions on flights by U.S. charter firms.