UK bizjet flying—tips and challenges

Immigration concerns, carbon offset issues and looming regulatory changes affect ease of ops.

By Grant McLaren

Dassault Falcon 7X on taxi at LCY (London City, England) during landing test in Oct 2008. Wide choices exist in London-area airports but each has its own rules, limitations and idiosyncrasies.

Apart of the world that clearly recognizes the value of corporate jets and business aviation, the UK remains a stable and open operating environment.

While traffic is down from 2007—a record year—movements to, from and within the region remain at healthy levels. The good news, as a result of lower traffic levels, is that slots and parking are more available than ever and quota restrictions at FAB (Farnborough, England) are not the problem they were 2 years ago.

Still, many new and looming regulatory issues are affecting operational flexibility to the UK and these issues will only become more challenging over the next couple of years. One of the biggest issues in the UK today involves immigration procedures and the doing away of preclearance options earlier this year at LCY (London City), LTN (Luton, London) and STN (Stansted, London).

There is no national policy in the UK for clearing immigration/ customs, individual airports are doing things differently and this can be a frustration for operators. And, beginning on Aug 31, 2009, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EUETS) kicks in to track historical and planned future carbon emissions.

All corporate aircraft operators must begin tracking their carbon emissions in preparation for carbon emission trading and tax procedures to be fully implemented in 2012. “The EU is dictating new rules on carbon emission monitoring and trading and this is something operators must begin dealing with in Aug 2009 by establishing and submitting an emissions plan,” says Universal Aviation UK Managing Dir Sean Raftery.

“Operators will need to begin logging and reporting their fuel uplifts to determine how much of a free carbon emission allocation they’ll get. Once this is fully in place by 2012 you may have to purchase carbon offsets at auction if you go over your free allocation.”

Air Routing Mgr Ground Ops, Planning and Development Terry Yeomans, who spends 75% of his time these days dealing with EU-related legislation issues, adds, “The EU emission monitoring scheme (is) a real minefield at the moment.

We’re warning everyone to be very wary of this and not to get caught up in a carbon trading moneymaking exercise promoted by individual companies. Anyone who operates to and from the EU must establish a benchmark for historical emissions and a plan for anticipated future emissions.

If you don’t act by the deadline there’s talk of financial and civil penalties against operators.” Other assorted challenges and idiosyncrasies when operating to the UK include level bust infringements—a particular problem in the LTN area—and noise violations which have attracted financial penalties for operators at FAB.

Be wary also of cabotage restrictions, slot requirements, limited hours of operation at some airfields, particular challenges when operating to joint-use civil/military airfields and new security screening procedures for corporate and private aircraft.

There’s plenty of good news for operators coming to the UK—including no Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) requirements and the welcome implementation of new US preclearance options beginning in July at DUB (Dublin, Ireland) and going into effect in Sep 2010 at SNN (Shannon, Ireland)—but several new regulatory issues are in the works and you’ll have to play by the rules.

Customs and immigration changes

Not long ago it was SOP to preclear customs/immigration in the UK without the need for in-person or physical passport checks. As of Jan 21, 2009, notes Yeomans, preclear has no longer been an option at several important UK airfields.

“The biggest issue we have these days is the UK Border Agency and how passengers are treated differently at different airports,” he says. “While the authorities are working to resolve this and come up with a nationwide policy, it’s proving to be difficult at the moment.

LTN, STN and LCY, which all come under one area commander, have suspended preclearance. Preclearance is still in effect at some UK airports, [while] at others they’ll preclear only EU nationals.” Preclearance was terminated at LTN, STN and LCY due to Border Agency perceptions of inaccurate data, say ISPs in the know.

A gorgeous facility with first-rate services, FAB (Farnborough, England) limits annual movements with a quota system. This can be particularly challenging for weekend arrivals/departures later in the year. Here a Gulfstream IVSP prepares for departure.

While ISPs are working with the Border Agency on an interim solution, dialog is currently “difficult” between operators and area commanders. The hope, within a few years, is that technology will catch up with this in some form of biometric capture and industry standard trusted traveler program.

No timeframe, however, has been established in providing some sort of uniform solution. Raftery notes that current UK customs and immigration policies are inconvenient and inconsistent.

“We’ve always had preclearance options in the UK but authorities are now becoming tougher on these options. Every airport is becoming different and the process has become less clear. Just like in the US, passengers are being scrutinized more these days and more passengers are being physically presented.”

Now, when landing at LTN, passengers wait aboard the aircraft while documents are taken over to customs/immigration to be stamped and returned. This can delay passengers by an additional 15–20 min.

The difficulty comes if there is someone of special interest to the Border Agency and that person is taken to the terminal facility and put in line with scheduled traffic passengers. At STN, where immigration is right at the FBO, the worst-case scenario is the need to drive to the FBO to walk in and clear.

FAB still offers preclearance. Be careful with accuracy of documents when traveling to the UK or anywhere else these days cautions Yeomans. “A big issue we’ve found is people traveling with multiple passports.

The flight department may submit generic passport details and then we find the passenger presents a different passport and causes problems. Documentation must match manifest data.”

Arriving without a passport is problematic anywhere, including the UK. Likely worst-case scenario is a £2000 carrier liability fine (about $3280) and the need for the delinquent passenger to depart the country immediately.

ISPs report a case of a passenger aboard a Gulf­stream G550 arriving in the UK mid-July without a passport—the entire flight was turned away! Over the past couple of years the UK has run a trial APIS program, invisible to operators, via assistance of local ISPs.

This test period has now mostly ended, confirms Yeomans: “The program has fizzled to a degree but authorities are still looking at a national APIS policy.”


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