Middle East update

Governments may appear to be stiff necked but business is desirable and local people are helpful and hospitable.

By Grant McLaren

Dassault Falcon 900LX on approach to AZI (Al Bateen, Abu Dhabi, UAE). AZI is the closest and most convenient option for Abu Dhabi but will only accept aircraft up to the size of an ACJ or BBJ.

The Middle East has grown in importance as a destination for business aviation flights. Services in many areas of this region are first rate but it's wise for flight crews and pax to keep in mind that there are operational issues to consider at many locations. Additional pre-trip planning is required compared with operations to Europe.

Operators need to be aware of permit and visa lead times, sponsor letters and other documentation requirements as well as location-specific security considerations. Errors in the trip planning phase can lead to delays and complications on the ground.

Still, if you have an upcoming trip to the Middle East you can look forward to a manageable and rewarding experience, assuming you do an adequate amount of advance planning.
Over the short-term we anticipate continuing uncertainty regarding operations to Egypt.

There will be particular locations—such as SAH (Sana, Yemen) and BEY (Beirut, Lebanon)—where you may not want to leave your aircraft overnight. In some regions crews will experience noticeable cultural differences.

Over the long-term, however, all manner of positive outcomes seem to be in the cards. One day we may have the pleasure of commuting to centers of business excellence at IKA (Tehran, Iran). We may be able to enjoy a "Hollywood of the East" environment at BEY or attractive FBO facilities and highly hospitable services from the Palestine Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) at GZA (Gaza Intl, Palestine).

At this moment in time, however, international support providers (ISPs) say that most traffic to the region is concentrated on ops to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Acceptance of US bizav flights varies by country

"The Middle East is a huge area and it's a very different experience depending upon where you're going," says Rockwell Collins Mgr Intl Trip Support Tim Bartholomew. "Operating to Turkey is different than operating to the UAE, the UAE is a different operating experience than Saudi Arabia and the experience of flying to Yemen is quite different than Oman.

It's all very location-specific. Some areas are more geared to business aviation flights than others. We recommend that operators focus on the particular location they're going to, as the local permit process, culture, service availability and off-airport experiences can be as different as Nigeria is to China."

Universal Weather & Aviation Master Trip Support Specialist Keith Forman suggests that additional lead time be factored into the trip planning process—particularly when operating to certain regions/destinations within the Middle East. "It's best to begin the planning process 2 or 3 weeks out," he says. "This gives you time to organize all required documents, visas and sponsor letters.

Particularly for first-time operators this is not a region of the world you want to rush into. Mistakes can cause trips to go sideways from time to time. For first-time operators the cultural shock may be an issue more than anything else. You'll see areas restricted to women and family members only and lots of well-armed police. It's important for crews to dress and act conservatively and to practice cultural and religious sensitivity."

Visa and sponsor letter considerations

IKA (Tehran, Iran) is a full service and welcoming tech or destination stop, say corporate pilots who use this location. For the time being however, due to US sanctions, this location is not easily accessible for N-registered aircraft operations.

Many Middle East countries require sponsor letters from your local business contact in order to process landing permits. "In the Middle East a sponsor letter is often an important requirement and your ISP will help coordinate correct format for this letter," says Jeppesen Intl Vendor Relations Mgr Europe, Middle East & Indian Ocean Mark O'Carroll. "Saudi Arabia, for example, will not issue a landing permit until they've communicated directly with your local contact. Other CAAs, however, just keep your sponsor information in case they need it later."

Crew visa requirements differ country by country and location to location. In some cases, you'll be able to obtain crew visas on arrival. "But we feel it's usually best to obtain visas prior to arrival as this makes the clearance process easier," says O'Carroll. "Depending on duration of stay and where you're staying, crew visas may not be required.

For Saudi Arabia, crew members staying under 24 hrs at airport hotels usually do not require visas. But if you're staying at a downtown hotel, you may need to have a visa. In some cases, these visa requirements and exemptions depend on which agent you encounter on landing."

Foreman also suggests that crews secure visas prior to operating to the Middle East. "While there are some locations that offer visas on arrival—including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia—the process can be somewhat hit or miss depending on your nationality. In Saudi Arabia, for example, visas on arrival are available for crew only and have limited validity—usually up to 48 or 72 hrs."

At some locations, active crew are not required to have visas, says Bartholomew. "Certain countries, including the UAE, allow crew entry without visas if they're in uniform, have crew IDs and are listed on the general declaration. There may, however, be lead time considerations and they may require a color scan of crew passports 48 hrs in advance of ETA."

Flight restrictions and tech stop considerations

Be aware that no overflights of Israel are permitted and you may only arrive in this country from certain specified departure airports. Saudi Arabia will not allow overflight of any aircraft to/from Israel while Turkey may or may not allow such overflights, say ISPs. "Don't assume you can overfly Turkey if departing/arriving from a destination in Israel," says Jeppesen Intl Vendor Relations Mgr Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia & Africa Ian Humphrey.

"And be aware that any Israeli-built aircraft face operating restrictions throughout the Middle East." It's also important to be aware of restrictions on N-registered and European Union (EU) registered aircraft with regard to US and EU sanctions.

"US and EU registered aircraft face restrictions on landing in Iran or Syria and may face overflight limitations in the case of Syria. To further complicate matters, these restrictions and regulations have the potential to change on a frequent basis."


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