FLIGHT SUPPORT SERVICES
Tools and tips for overseas trips
Today's flight dept schedulers use a broad array of options for complex trip planning and support.
By David Bjellos
ATP/Helo. Gulfstream IVSP, Bell 407
(L-R) Valero Senior Capt Lake Ellis and Flight Coordinator Belinda Malin go over upcoming schedules to California while Flight Coordinator Kadee Rice works on a planned trip to Europe.
Business executives require the nimble flexibility of private transportation over the time-consuming and tedious constraints imposed by commercial operators. With private aircraft, same-day negotiations are possible in multiple countries-especially in western Europe.
And, as our trading partners expand away from the domestic US market, so does the need for safe and efficient travel. Many companies which once traveled exclusively within the continental US, Canada and Mexico are reaching further out, sometimes quickly and aggressively.
Order backlogs for long-range cabin aircraft remain solid through 2012, and trade continues to grow outside the US. Dozens of flight handling options exist, both for first-time travelers abroad and the seasoned flight department with frequent international ops.
Everything from full service, one-call trip handling to à la carte pricing exists, as do providers with do-it-yourself alternatives.
Trip support-from full to self service
By far the easiest way to begin travel plans is to use a full service provider. These companies can provide for every aspect of a trip, including:
• Visa requirements for each passenger nationality and countries to be visited
• Overflight and landing permits
• Fuel arrangements
• Lodging (for both passengers and flightcrew, if required) and transportation
• Aircraft and/or personnel security
• All aspects of flight planning, weather, Notams, slots and parking
• Aircraft handling, catering, maintenance and hangarage
Among the benefits of using a full service provider is the fact that their daily interaction with their own network of ground staff worldwide can ensure a local presence when things don't go as planned.
The largest full service providers are Universal Weather and Aviation and Air Routing Intl. Both companies provide a global presence and have staff around the world dedicated to corporate aircraft support.
Their focus is to ensure customer service at the VIP level, including security, handling and customs and immigration issues. Each has a 24/7 workforce with a domestic US base in Houston TX.
These companies' state-of-the-art offerings match or exceed any airline dispatch facility worldwide. Flight departments with experience outside the US often perform inhouse flight planning.
ARINC, Baseops, Honeywell/GDC, Jeppesen and others provide a full menu of services including online flight planning tools-North Atlantic and Pacific tracks, international Notams and weather, slot requests, handling services and fuel-and 24/7 staffed headquarters for more detailed itineraries.
Travel Information Manual
Flightcrews and schedulers find the Travel Information Manual (TIM) a valuable and timesaving tool. Published by IATA Netherlands and distributed monthly, TIM contains country-specific information on required visas, entry requirements and length-of-stay limitations, and other useful details for flightcrews.
All the world's major airlines subscribe to TIM (which is available in both CD and booklet format), and the manual is increasingly seen in corporate aircraft. Even if you travel internationally only rarely, access to this information is invaluable, especially when a last-minute passenger shows up without a visa.
You can determine quickly whether one is required by referencing the country. While TIM is updated monthly, it should be used only as a reference. The handling agent at destination can confirm passport and visa requirements that may be more accurate.
Their software is complex and includes fuel bias (climb, cruise, descent) and equal time points (ETP) for engine failure, depressurization or diversion. All these providers handle huge numbers of international trips daily. Having a second set of eyes review your routing and itinerary can pay dividends when contingencies arise.
For example, last-minute TFRs, runway closures at destination and unpredicted weather are all monitored and relayed to the designated dispatcher or flight captain as a matter of routine. Even a few hours' advance notice can give schedulers and aviators a chance to offer alternatives to passengers rather than an unexpected surprise enroute.
Determining your level of comfort and experience is crucial to choosing the right level of service for your flight department. Many corporate operations have decades-long experience and do much of their own planning, but some locations require extra assistance.
China, Russia, Indonesia and parts of the Middle East require the support of a local representative to ensure smooth handling and overcome language issues. Customs forms, entry paperwork, required insurance and noise certificates must be completed correctly and submitted in a timely manner-requirements vary by location, and the local agent can assist with this task.
Likewise, political tensions can cause random delays for crews and passengers. Using a local contact on arrival or departure can add significant value for time-pressed passengers. Finally, wide-reaching FBO providers Jet Aviation and Signature Flight Support have locations globally that accommodate operators who prefer to make their own arrangements.
Signature employs a system called "ConciAir Online" which allows schedulers and flightcrews to make FBO, catering, hotel and rental car reservations online. Jet Aviation has a considerable presence in western Europe and the Middle East and can arrange personalized handling through its networks.
Importing aircraft into the EU
Travel within the 27 countries of the European Union (EU) carries responsibilities that must be understood to avoid fines and censure. Cabotage is the term used to describe the 8th freedom of air transportation, as defined by the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention).
VWP and ESTA
Many flight departments are unaware that they can apply for and implement a visa waiver program (VWP) identical to those in use by the airlines. This allows citizens of VWP signatory countries to apply for a waiver (now available online at esta.cbp.dhs. gov) and can greatly assist companies who carry VWP nationals frequently to the US.
This online application, known as the electronic system for travel authorization (ESTA), will determine-almost immediately-if an individual is eligible for VWP travel. Once approved, ESTA is valid for 2 years with multiple entries or passport expiration, whichever is first. The new system is scheduled to take effect on Jan 12, 2009.
Nationals of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are eligible to participate.