European Union Closes Borders As Flight Restrictions Tighten

 - March 18, 2020, 6:15 AM
As the EU closes its borders, the business aviation community is appealing for help saying it is taking a toll. (Photo David McIntosh)

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

The European Union (EU) last night implemented new travel restrictions excluding most non-EU citizens from entering its member states for at least 30 days. The ban will not include long-term residents, people working in essential services, diplomats, and cross-border commuters. Also exempt are citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, as well as the UK, which left the EU in January.

The closure of EU external borders to most non-citizens will create further pressure on cash-strapped airlines, while also limiting the scope for business aircraft flights. Non-EU flight crew will be permitted to cross external and internal EU borders under a commitment to ensure the movement of goods and EU citizens. That said, several EU states, including Italy, Spain, France, Belgium and Germany have imposed lockdowns that prohibit almost all travel within these countries.

The restrictions, confirmed late on March 17, are intended to create uniform rules among the passport-free Schengen zone states. Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland had earlier imposed border restrictions unilaterally.

Meanwhile, Russia closed its border to foreign visitors from March 18. The restriction is due to stay in force at least until May 1.

The European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) said it respects the decision by the EU to suspend border access while calling on the European Commission, EU member states, and Switzerland to provide relief measures for the business aviation sector, which it says employs over 370,000 people in Europe. "In this crisis, one area of the business aviation sector—medical flights—should be clearly exempt from any restrictions, as they help save lives. On average, European business aviation operates no less than 70 medical flights per day," said the group in a March 17 statement. 

"It is still too early to fully evaluate the extent of the crisis's impact on the business aviation sector. But we have been receiving reports of operators' aircraft grounded, airport closures, and staff being put on leave across Europe due to the rapidly evolving crisis and travel restrictions,"  commented EBAA secretary-general Athar Husain Khan.