Travel Restrictions Require Extra Diligence by Trip Planners

 - April 15, 2020, 8:16 AM

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

The complexities faced by aircraft operators trying to navigate ongoing Covid-19 travel restrictions were highlighted by an April 4 incident in which 10 passengers landing at Marseille in the south of France on a chartered Embraer Legacy were denied entry to the country after local police ruled that their trip breached the country’s strict lockdown rules. While the details of how the flight was managed have proved hard to confirm, it seems clear that the wasted trip could have been avoided with more thorough planning.

According to Adam Hartley, manager for global regulatory services with flight support group Universal Weather & Aviation, flight planners need to be more thorough than ever in understanding rules and requirements that can shift very quickly in the ongoing public health emergency. “These days, you can’t just rely on what’s in the notams or posted restrictions,” he told AIN. “You need to explicitly confirm that the trip is permitted and that you have provided all the required details, such as full travel history for the whole group of passengers and crew.”

Evidently, in the current climate it isn’t enough to know whether a flight itself is permitted. What appears to have caused French police to block the group traveling to Marseille for a vacation was their plan to fly to a villa near Cannes in three chartered helicopters at a time when French residents are only permitted to circulate in very close proximity to their homes. Also, it was determined that the trip did not meet the requirement for being associated with an emergency need or purpose.

“Local rules can change at short notice and those who enforce these are racing to catch up; you just can’t rely on what happened last week to be fine this week, because everything seems to be case-by-case,” Hartley explained. “Also, setting [customer] expectations is huge now.”

According to French police, officers controlling the border at Marseille Provence Airport were told not to permit entry to the 10 passengers on board the Legacy, except for three French nationals in a group that also included citizens of Croatia, Germany, Romania, and Ukraine. It is not clear whether the undisclosed UK-based charter operator had been informed of the potential problem before departure from a London-area airport.

The end result was that nine of the passengers were forced to return to the UK in the Legacy, while one chartered a separate flight to Germany. According to French media reports, the operator of the helicopters booked for the onward flights to Cannes was fined for breaching local travel restrictions.