The 41st annual NBAA International Operators Conference (IOC), March 26-29, brought some 600 corporate pilots, dispatchers, service providers, and authorities to Las Vegas for four days of focus on key issues and the fine points of flying business aircraft beyond U.S. borders. The IOC’s 20 intensive educational sessions and dozen specialty topics covered coming regulatory changes, best practices, medical issues, regional operational reviews, and a variety of other pertinent topics, led by panels of experts who provided actionable information.
“Nobody knows everything, but everybody knows something,” said Craig Hanlon, a DuPont corporate pilot and chair, NBAA International Operators Committee, invoking one of the IOC’s core tenets in his welcoming remarks. He urged attendees to “Get together, share your knowledge and share your passion.”
The organization’s mission, “to ensure that international operators fly safely, legally and securely,” was further served by opportunities to mingle with colleagues at conference events designed to connect attendees by areas of interest.
Outbound from the U.S., flight paths in many directions cross Special Areas of Operation (SAO), which include North Atlantic High Airspace (NAT HLA), Areas of Magnetic Unreliability and Polar regions, Gulf of Mexico control areas and the Pacific Organized Track System. Operators may need a Letter of Authorization (LOA) to fly in SAOs, and the approval process can include “tabletop” validation tests with FAA examiners.
In the Global Regulatory Updates session Dave Moloy, an FAA SAO specialist, cited current areas of emphasis in tabletops for operators pursuing LOAs for the NAT HLA, the most sought-after airspace approval: “Timing errors are a hot topic,” he said, as controllers seek more operational and reporting accuracy from crews in the reduced separation environment. Strategic Lateral Offset Procedures (SLOP) is another focus. SLOP “mitigates the risk of collision; it’s not for avoiding wake turbulence,” he said, and it should be used for all oceanic operations. Applicants can expect to be asked about contingency procedures and reclearances, as well; mistakes in following the latter are the primary cause of Gross Navigational Errors (GNEs) in this airspace, Moloy said.
Accessing the preferred routes in NAT HLA (Eastbound tracks from FL350 through FL390) requires FANS 1/A, but being FANS equipped isn’t enough anymore, Carey Miller, business development director at Universal Avionics, explained during a review of upcoming mandates in the Avionics Updates session.
FANS comprises ADS-C (automatic dependent surveillance-contract), which provides automatic position reports; and CPDLC (controller-pilot datalink communications), which provides text communication for requests and intervention. Both are linked to ATC through satellite (Inmarsat or Iridium) or VHF radio. In addition to installing the required FANS equipment, operators must now ascertain and certify their installations meet domestic and oceanic datalink performance-based communication and surveillance (PBCS) minimums. The ICAO-led initiative is aimed at improving safety, and secondarily enabling reduced longitudinal separation minimum (RLongSM) to five minutes in-trail, and reduced lateral separation minimum (RLatSM) to a proposed one-half degree (30 nm).
The PBCS rules (AC 90-117), issued October 2017, called for then-authorized operators to update their LOAs to reflect the aircraft datalink system performance, and have FAA approval by March 29 of this year. Due to the resulting onslaught of applications (about 1,100 according to Moloy), the FAA has given Part 91 operators until September 30 to have LOAs, but until in their possession they are barred from NAT HLA routes requiring FANS.
The new PBCS requirements mandate RSP180 (required surveillance performance: max 180-second signal interval) and RCP240 (required communication performance: max 240-second com response interval) 95 percent of the time. However, issues associated with the installations can interfere with achieving those performance benchmarks, noted Mike Mitera, president and a pilot at Chicago Jet Group. Avionics will try to communicate via VHF before satellite “because it’s faster, more efficient and less expensive” he said. This can cause problems in offshore transition areas, as the FANS tries to make VHF transmissions beyond reception range, consuming RSP and RCP time, and potentially affecting compliance with the 95 percent performance requirement. “Turn off the VHF receiver when entering the transition zone,” Mitera recommended.
Beyond U.S. borders, the Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPS) that domestic flight crews are accustomed to using for approaches and departures are largely supplanted by Procedures for Air Navigation Services (PANS-OPS). PANS-OPS is the ICAO and de facto international standard, used throughout Europe and in many countries worldwide. TERPS, in addition to the U.S., is used in Canada, Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan, among others. Brad Crosier, FlightSafety International’s lead international procedures instructor, urged pilots to understand how this affects corresponding procedures, such as circling approaches, where minimum obstacle clearance criteria are markedly different.
Daily morning weather briefings by meteorologists and flight planners covered weather and climatic patterns around the world, highlighting their impacts on flight operations.
Mark Stalcup, senior meteorologist at Universal Weather & Aviation, called 2018 “a remarkable year for nor’easters,” pointing to the new popularity of the term “bomb cyclogenesis,” defined as a rapid intensification of low-level surface pressure that drops at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. These storms cause massive arrival and departure delays at airports in Flow Constrained Areas (FCAs), which are used to manage airspace affected by weather.
“Have a plan, especially if you’re coming in from Europe or on a transoceanic flight” during a nor’easter, Stalcup advised. “Make sure you have a detailed weather briefing for what may come, where your alternate is, and how it’s impacted.” Airports in the New York area affected include GA hubs Morristown (MMU) and Teterboro (TEB). Real-time information on FCAs is available from the Air Traffic Control Systems Command Center.
Mike Wittman, director of operations at Evo Jet Services, noted 2017’s “disastrous hurricane season,” caused by two factors, he said: a change in the upper level steering mechanism that typically impedes storms from moving westward; and above-average sea temperatures that intensified the storms. The extreme weather may be the result of climate change, he said, and if so, “we can expect bigger, more intense storms” in coming seasons. Operators need to update their contingency and emergency response plans as threats evolve, a recommendation echoed in sessions on topics ranging from this one to security and medical issues.
William “Billy” Bohlke, president and chief pilot of St. Croix’s Bohlke Aviation, gave a first hand account of hurricanes’ impact during the Regional Review of Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean. Two weeks after Irma just missed it, Maria, another Category Five hurricane, hit St. Croix, leaving “no area on the island untouched,” Bohlke said, destroying the power grid and communications networks as well as many homes and commercial buildings. There’s “no manual for how to deal with these situations” in the aftermath of devastation this vast, Bohlke said, but he recommended having a sat phone. “When cell towers go down, that’s all you have,” he said.
In both storms, Bohlke Aviation relocated its fleet, which includes a Gulfstream G100, King Air B200, and MU-2, to Curacao, 480 nm south, the refuge of choice for regional aircraft when hurricanes threaten.
Currently fuel and services are largely available and private aircraft can operate in and out of affected islands, but many hotels remain closed.
Europe is the top destination for U.S. overseas bizav flight, and private aircraft can enter Europe under Temporary Admission or Full Import. The former is best for occasional operations to and within the continent, as there’s no cost. For frequent visitors or those who want unfettered access, and/or often carry European nationals within the EU, Full Import is often more advisable, or even mandated. But the dividing line between when Temporary Admission is acceptable and Full Import is required is undefined.
Phil Rawlins, project manager at the UK’s Martyn Fiddler Aviation, offered this guiding principle for differentiating the two during the Europe Regional Review: “If you’re selecting airports to avoid hassles you know you could expect with Temporary Admission, consider Full Importation.” With Full Import, “You can do what want, there are no time limits [on staying in the EU), you can carry whoever you want,” Rawlins said. “Duty has been removed, so no duty is involved in full importation.” However, he noted each EU member state can decide its own importation tax, which can vary from 17 percent to 27 percent, and that should factor into the decision of where to base the aircraft.
Concerns about SAFA (Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft) Ramp Inspections appear to have subsided, though no uniform standards for the inspections exist. EASA gives wide latitude to inspectors, simply instructing them to be “reasonable,” according to Dustin Duke, senior captain for Anadarko Petroleum.
“Be prepared, well organized, and talk to the inspector politely,” Duke advised. “We have an aircraft document binder with copies of everything—no originals—and can hand over the binder to the inspector,” said Duke. “Be confident.”
Many in the audience had already undergone a SAFA check, but the inspection went badly for only one, according to a show of hands.
The impacts of Brexit remain a matter of interest for operators. For those entering the UK from a third country, little is expected to change. “You’ll still get flight charges from Eurocontrol,” Rawlins said. Any changes “will be over time.” Operators who imported aircraft into the UK as a base for use in the EU “shouldn’t lose that free circulation,” he said, but “clarity is being sought” on the rules. Changes are forthcoming for UK- and EU-based aircraft flying between the two jurisdictions, but “we don’t know what they are,” Rawlins said.
The conference’s Regional Reviews served as detailed miniatures of the business aviation infrastructure and rules across six continents, and reminders of the stark differences awaiting U.S. operators beyond U.S. borders. Several pieces of advice apply to many regions. “Patience” was cited as an essential attribute by several panelists. Crews should also set passenger expectations regarding possible CIQ delays and all aspects of the experience that will be different from flights to more developed parts of the world. Many panelists advised working with local handlers; it’s mandated in many states, and a smart move in most of the others to ensure all applicable rules and procedures are followed.
Operators should recognize that in many parts of the world, commercial operators receive priority over general aviation operators for fueling and runway access. Be familiar with peak commercial air traffic times at your destinations, as it can affect operations.
“Private or VIP travel in Africa is a blip on the statistics,” said Björn Ischner, general manager of South Africa FBO Fireblade Aviation, in explanation.
Most nations strictly enforce prohibitions on cabotage. Only passengers who arrive in country in a private aircraft can depart in it, and a foreign-registered aircraft may be prohibited from providing carriage within a country to those passengers, with the exception of technical stops,
Spares of any items that have high failure rates or are difficult to repair should be brought along on the aircraft, as should a tow bar.
Yet recognition, if not acceptance, of business aviation appears to be growing even in the world’s most resistant corners. “AfBAA and MEBAA [the African and Middle East and North African Business Aviation Associations] are making inroads, albeit at a snail’s pace, convincing African governments that general aviation has a role to play, that [aircraft] owners can shape the destinies and economies of every nation,” said Ischner. “Over last decade, the regulation of handlers and licensing has improved, screening of personnel at airports has improved security, and transactions [for fee payments] are traceable.”
The World Cup (to be held from June 14 to July 15), hosted by Russia and staged in 11 widely spread cities, is expected to draw a global contingent of business aircraft this summer. U.S. operators should “account for the current political climate” in anticipating the welcome they’ll receive, said Paul Lourenco, director of operations, Eurojets. Lourenco reported that in talking to planners charged with developing plans for accommodating business aviation, “The common theme was ‘We don’t know what’s going to happen.’” But given the need to move among the competition sites, “The word on the street is that cabotage will be allowed—you can fly internally within Russia—but nothing official yet,” he said.
Landing permits and slots will be required at all host city airports during the Games. Parking is not permitted at many airports, and where allowed, expect price increases “like the parking surcharge imposed right before the Sochi Olympics,” Lourenco said, recommending repositioning aircraft out of Russia.
International operations in Brazil have declined from peaks seen when it hosted the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, but it remains the largest country and economy in South America and a major destination for U.S.-based business aircraft. Looking ahead, Brazil expects GA operations, currently numbering about 900,000 per year, to grow at an annual rate of 8.3 percent for the next 20 years. In the South America and Brazil Regional Review, Dario Rais Lopes, National Secretary, Civil Aviation Brazil, outlined efforts under way to accommodate the expected increase and encourage its growth.
In a first step toward expanding CIQ services for private aviation, Lopes said, authorities are enhancing “the operational readiness of existing gateways, to ensure the presence of immigration and Customs all day,” along with creating new international GA gateways at Sorocaba in São Paulo and São José Dos Campos. Air navigation services, formerly provided by both civilian and military controllers, are being consolidated under a new organization to improve service, governance, and efficiency. New regulations for air taxis up to 19 seats will simplify and reduce costs of certification, Lopes said.
U.S. passengers need visas for Brazil (flight crews operating the aircraft are exempt), but Adonis Bastos, an operations supervisor with Universal Aviation, Brazil, noted Americans, along with Canadians and citizens from a handful of other states, are now eligible to file e-visa applications, which can be approved in five business days.
Flight Planning—for Today and Tomorrow
Flight departments have choices for their trip planning protocol: handling it in house, relying on third-party services, or some combination of the two. The rapid development of technology-based trip-planning solutions is leading many departments to re-evaluate their approach to planning and executing international operations, said John Harpool, international operations resource at Sky Plan. Focusing on Best Practices & Operator Obligations in International Trip Planning, Harpool and a panel of seasoned captains reviewed items that should be on every pilot’s and planner’s checklist.
Whatever the planning model for the flight department, outsourced or in-house, Phil Tyler, head of special projects and business development at Scott IPC, and panelists on this and other sessions, advocate having one person in charge of planning for each trip.
“For me it’s all about accountability,” Tyler said. If multiple people are in charge, “then no one is.” Acknowledging its “negative connotations,” Tyler countered “true accountability is about unleashing your people and their potential, not constraining them. We need that part of the process for excellence to be achieved. Encouraging them to take personal responsibility is paramount for an organization’s success.”
Another key element in ensuring successful international operations, Harpool said, is having an international operations manual that is constantly updated and incorporates “robust procedures that everyone embraces and consistently follows.”
For individual trips, a primary obligation is to ensure crews are familiar with regulations of the states in or over which they are operating, which go beyond TERPS or PANS-OPS distinctions. Nations’ procedural rules are found in each’s Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP) as well as in Jeppesen manuals. The AIPs typically provide more comprehensive information, yet may only identify which of a country’s regulations differ from international standards as defined in ICAO’s Annex 2, rather than identify the differences. “Take time before trip to understand what the rules are,” Harpool urged.
In identifying “gotchas” that can snag the unwary, James Albright, a chief pilot, said, “The science of international flying is picking up the pieces when they fall.” He advised crews to verify runway lengths and the weight-bearing capacities of hard surfaces, the latter point illustrated with a photo of a Gulfstream on an unidentified ramp with its right main gear sunk halfway into the asphalt.
Albright also noted difficulties in parsing useful information from Notams, citing the notice issued for the temporary restricted area defining the airspace in which Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine in 2014, a hazard the Notam never mentions. Fourteen aircraft were shot down in the airspace in the previous 14 months, and including that fact would have likely achieved the Notam’s purpose, Albright surmised. Nonetheless, information about the hazard was available through other channels, which led several airlines to routinely fly around the airspace, while many others ignored the ongoing warnings.
Security in the air and on the ground is a critical planning issue, as speakers emphasized in several sessions. In the Regional Review of India & the Middle East, Kurt Stehling, a Global 6000 international captain with UTC, said overflight decision-making provoked “big discussion” in his department. For traversing areas where security is a concern, “I developed a ‘dry ocean’ ETP (Equal Time Point) concept,” he said, which includes providing flight crews a list of pre-negotiated airports of safe harbor.
Meanwhile, to ensure lessons are learned and mistakes aren’t repeated, Tyler recommended having a debriefing protocol for “getting feedback from crews after a trip,” which is otherwise difficult to obtain, he said. “Without a trip wrap-up process, its going to be impossible to get where you want to go.”
Industry statistics and the sparse show of hands of millennials—those 35 and younger—attending the conference foretell coming flight department staffing shortages. The Generation: Next session focused on how to attract and retain tomorrow’s corporate aviation workers. Moderator Brian Koester, NBAA operations manager, recalled being the only millennial at his first leadership training program, where every other participant “said something about managing millennials” in a discussion of job challenges.
Millennials on the session panel agreed companies have to ensure they offer the pay, incentives, opportunities, and quality of life millennials are looking for, and offered recommendations: conduct industry salary and benefits reviews to ensure compensation is competitive; recognize some employees will choose to be heavily involved in department operations and others won’t, and provide bonus programs for the former and don’t penalize the latter; and establish internships. Stehling suggested employers “invest in people,” for example by funding ongoing education. Brandon Williams, lead training captain with Richardson Aviation, recommended exposing new hires to opportunities that lie ahead. “Put them in the jump seat of a Global, [so they can see] what kind of flying they’re going to be able to do,” he said.
Emergencies and Contingencies
Of course things don’t always go according to plan, or the plans themselves may fall short, and operators have to be prepared for contingencies. In the event of an engine loss, for example, after driftdown the aircraft will have to proceed to an alternate at a lower altitude. The winds at those lower altitudes need to be factored into the ETP and the calculations for reaching alternates. In the event of a loss of pressurization, the aircraft will have to descend to an altitude balancing performance and oxygen requirements, and the APU may need to be engaged to heat the cabin. That additional fuel burn needs to be factored into planning along with the extra fuel consumed from flying at lower altitudes, Harpool said. Planners also need to ensure the alternate airports selected have the services needed for specific emergencies.
Meteorologist Rich Nath of World Fuel Services (WFS) advised having a business continuity plan to deal with disruptions caused by natural disasters. “Have specifics, with items to take effect before a forecast tropical storm” hits. A Houston resident, Nath said Hurricane Harvey didn’t meet the company’s criteria to trigger its continuity plan, as its first threat had passed, and he displayed photos of WFS’s flooded premises in its aftermath. “We have to review and change the plan this year,” he concluded.
For those who wonder what happens when an aircraft goes AOG in a faraway land, John Tuten, chief pilot with Honeywell, related the experience of being AOG in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, planned as a 24-hour stopover on a six-day trip. The passengers airlined home while the crew stayed to oversee repairs. “After five days it was evident it wasn’t going to be a quick fix,” he said. The crew requested visa extensions, “but in the current political climate we didn’t trust leaving the crew in country with expired visas,” so a replacement crew got visas and took over on-site repair management, and the original crew airlined home. Replacement parts from Gulfstream took four days to assemble and ship from London, then spent “five or six days in Customs jail in Uzbekistan,” said Tuten. Once the parts were released, the repairs were quickly completed, but the airplane wasn’t released until the Customs duty was wired to the agency. Gulfstream got the tools back two weeks later.
Health issues can have immense impact on international operations, whether they involve crewmembers, passengers, or an on-ground situation at a destination. In the session on medical issues, Neal Sikka, M.D., of GW Medical Faculty Associates, focused on influenza, “one of most highly contagious infections we know.” This year’s flu outbreak included “very severe syndromes,” he said, adding that the vaccine formulation developed this year was less effective than batches released during recent flu seasons. “Make sure everyone gets an influenza vaccination,” he said, stressing that while it might trigger a “mild reaction,” a vaccination “will not give you the flu, and will reduce the severity if you get the flu.” He also advised providing six feet of isolation aboard an aircraft for any symptomatic individual, and to assign one crewmember to deal with that passenger. The affected individual should wear a protective facemask. “It’s becoming common in many countries,” he said, “and becoming more common here.”
Frances Pena, lead flight attendant, provided a first-person account of the potential for an emergency to strike unexpectedly, recounting the stroke she suffered in the midst of a medical training session with other flight attendants. “They recognized the symptoms and responded appropriately,” Pena said. “I thought I was fine. I even did my own stroke test and said, ‘See, I’m fine,’ and the look in their faces said, ‘Girl you are not fine!’ I tried to downplay the situation. I wasn’t embarrassed, I just didn’t want them make a fuss over me.”
After calling 911, her colleagues immediately contacted their in-flight medical assistance provider while waiting for the ambulance. One takeaway, Pena said: “As pilots, remember the closest place isn’t necessarily the right choice. Had the medical team sent me anywhere other than a stroke hospital, I think things would have worked out differently.”
Flight departments have paid greater attention to drug and alcohol abuse among flight crews in recent years, but if the cockpit isn’t immune to these problems, neither is the cabin, said Michael Braida, M.D., Medaire’s medical director, Global Response Centre. He advised flight crews to be mindful of passengers who may be unfit to fly because of drug abuse. “We don’t have very many numbers or statistics on what’s happening in the executive aviation sector, but feel it’s an increasing number of events,” Braida said.
Drug overdoses and withdrawal are both concerns. Alcohol withdrawal, for example, can cause “intense seizures.”
“High-net-worth individuals are paying a lot for flights, but safety is most important, Braida concluded. “It’s all about recognizing the kind of passenger you’re flying with, and having a protocol for dealing with them. Have ground-based medical experts, and [narcotics] antidotes.”
Clearing Customs on the trip home has gotten easier in recent years, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has become more accommodating toward general aviation, a policy shift spearheaded by Eric Rodriguez, CBP program manager, general aviation. Though scheduled to speak, Rodriguez, a semi-regular at IOC, didn’t receive funding to attend this year’s conference, Laura Everington, senior manager, government and industry affairs at Universal Weather & Aviation, told attendees at the top of the CBP Update session.
APIS (Advance Passenger Information System) data quality—the information sent to CBP about passengers and crew onboard—remains at about 98 percent, “but the two percent are the problem,” Everington said, as that fraction impedes further relaxation of CBP’s GA policies. “We’ve got to have 100 percent compliance” with mandates for accuracy in information submitted to CBP via APIS.
Common errors, she said, include misspellings of names and leaving out middle initials.
“Somebody has to check documents as people board the airplane against the information transmitted on the APIS,” Everington said. “Ultimately it’s the PIC’s responsibility. That five-minute exercise can save so much heartache.”
A lack of codified CBP inspection procedures and requirements at AOEs has been an ongoing issue. Sarah Wolff, NBAA senior manager of security and facilitation, reported that the draft of the GA Operators Guide developed with CBP, which will define uniform CBP inspection procedures and requirements, has been turned over the CBP for final review before publication. “Our hope is that we will get something out toward the end of the year on that document,” Wolf said. “We don’t have the pleasure of announcing its release today, and don’t have estimate of when it will be done, but we’ll keep you posted.”
In the absence of the guide, Everington, citing Rodriguez’s backing, urged attendees not to comply with CBP demands for documents that aren’t required. “Unless we comply exactly as we need to do [legally] as an industry together, there will continue to be inconsistencies across the country,” she said.
Everington also announced that any penalty imposed by CBP on a general aviation aircraft at an AOE would henceforth be reviewed by Rodriguez before levied, a change in CBP policy.